Posts Tagged ‘reflections’

It’s been a rough day. Let’s talk the intricacies and difficulties of writing fiction!

I often like to talk like a know-it-all on this blog, but let’s face it, there’s still things I could be better at. Or that I think I could be better at. One of those things is themes. Most stories have them: Harry Potter has destiny vs. fate, prejudice, and our relationship with death; The Shawshank Redemption is about finding hope in a hopeless place, learning to survive and even find ways to thrive in harsh conditions, and, of course, redemption; and The Very Hungry Caterpillar is about how the inevitability of change crafted by thousands of years of evolution and the incessant need to feed to support the process.

Okay, that last one is a huge stretch, but you get the idea. Plenty of stories have deeper meanings and commentaries wrapped into them, like several candle wicks wrapped together to form a new and beautiful candle. Some of these stories are written with the theme in mind, while others arise during the writing of the story. And depending on the kind of story, it can seem odd if a story does or doesn’t have a theme (I wouldn’t expect one from any variation of The Three Little Pigs, but I would expect plenty of thematic elements in an Anne Rice novel).

But how well you carry the theme can vary sometimes. It’s like carrying a tune: sometimes you’re able to do it well, sometimes it varies depending on the tune, and some people, like me, can’t carry a tune that well at all (though that never stops me when there’s a karaoke party going on). With some of the stories I’ve been working on lately, I’ve been trying to figure out how well I carry the themes written into them. And after a lot of thought, I’ve come to the realization that authors are probably not the best people to judge their own work.

Which is probably why we have beta readers and editors, now that I think about it.

With Rose, there’s a big theme of toxic masculinity, especially in the latest draft, that becomes more and more apparent as the story goes on. That theme kind of arose on its own while I wrote and edited and re-edited the story, and I like to think I carry it very well in the book,* though at times I wonder if I’m being a little too obvious with it. Meanwhile, in this novella I’m working on now, there’s a pretty obvious theme about the perils of racism. I’m not too sure how I’m carrying it, if maybe the angle I’m going for or just the way I carry it is the problem.

Then again, some really good stories do go about exploring racism without being subtle at all. Heck, sometimes that’s the point. A Raisin in the Sun┬ámakes no attempt to hide what it’s about. And the novel The Help by Kathryn Stockett has been criticized about how it portrays and explores race relations (as well as who’s writing it), but it still gets its point across very well. Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Despite my own uncertainties about how well I carry themes, I still write and try to carry them as best I can. What else am I supposed to do? I’m not going to give up writing anytime soon just because I’m unsure of how well an idea or a deeper meaning in one of my stories is presented. Hell, I should keep writing, because that’s how I’m going to get better at carrying them. And if I make a few mistakes along the way, I’ll just pick myself up and try again, either by editing the story or trying to write a new one. It beats beating myself up over it, right?

Besides, I may be my own worst judge. What I see as clumsy carrying, others might see as pretty damn good. And that’s reason enough for me to continue writing in the first place.

*Which I hope to have more news on soon. Thank you, as always, for your continued patience as my publisher Castrum Press and I make sure that Rose is up to snuff before publishing.

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If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a big Stephen King fan (cue everyone who knows me saying in a torrent of sarcasm, “Gee, really? We had no effing idea!”). So when I heard some time last year that Hulu, JJ Abrams and His Royal Scariness Himself were collaborating to create a TV series set in his famous fictional town Castle Rock, you know I was interested. Fast forward to July 25th, and the first three episodes of Castle Rock premiered on Hulu. I didn’t write a review for them (I think that I was busy with a hundred other things that week), but I thought that the series had a strong start, and I was looking forward to seeing where the story went.

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve just finished Season One. How did it hold up?

First, the story. Taking place in the Stephen King multiverse, particularly in one of his frequent settings, Castle Rock, Maine, Castle Rock‘s first season follows Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a lawyer who returns to his childhood town after receiving a call from nearby Shawshank Penitentiary after a prisoner (Bill Skarsgaard of IT fame) was found in its deepest depths, in a cage, with no name or other identity, only asking for him. Deaver, who left town after disappearing and then being found, only to be accused of murdering his adoptive father, tries to help this mysterious young man. But as he delves into this man’s case, as well as his own disappearance, he finds some strange connections between the two. And as violence starts building in the town, the race to figure out both mysteries takes on a whole new importance.

Okay first off, the cast is the best thing about this show! Every character utterly inhabits their character and make them feel like real people, some of whom you can imagine hanging out with (others, stay the hell away from). I especially liked Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, a realtor with psychic powers and a history with Henry Deaver, and Sissy Spacek (yes, the original Carrie came back for another Stephen King story) as Ruth Deaver, Henry Deaver’s dementia-addled but still feisty and witty adoptive mother. And Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn (maybe the only character who actually comes from a King story in this show) is a very sympathetic character, though he does come off at first as almost unlikable. Still, Holland as Deaver is the one who carries the story. We see things mainly through his eyes, and see how he struggles with all the baggage he carries as he tries to sift through all the confusion between events past and present.

I also liked the plot and how the story was told. It’s clearly geared towards people who are familiar with King’s works but still makes it accessible to those who haven’t seen the series. The writers also took the approach of a slow burn, taking their time to set up these characters and draw us in with the mystery while every now and then pumping things up to keep it interesting. And the writers weren’t afraid to take risks: two episodes are told entirely from the POV of a single character, and one of these episodes, through the eyes of Sissy Spacek’s character, is probably the best episode of the season.

Love Sissy Spacek in this show.

And finally, this does feel like a Stephen King story made for a television format. It’s not based on any particular story he’s written, but incorporates all of his stories, especially the ones set in Castle Rock, to give us a drama and a place that’s both familiar and new. Plus, you’ve got all the tropes you love (or in some cases, hate) from King: psychics, small towns full of secrets, religious fanatics gone crazy, sheriffs (or in this case, retired sheriffs), and of course, a whole bunch of weirdness that makes you go, “Say what? That works, but still, what the hell?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about Castle Rock? Well, a few things: one is that there’s a little too much weird. King’s been known to include a lot of odd concepts and sci-fi ideas into his work to varying degrees, and Castle Rock has a lot of that. The problem with that is, too much weird can lead to a lot of exposition and slow sequences where not much happens. Consequently, it also bites into moments where we could be totally terrified. And in my opinion, there weren’t enough of those moments, which is sad. Stephen King or Stephen-King inspired, his work is truly at its best when it features a shape-shifting clown hungry for children, or a Nazi war criminal burning cats alive in his oven,* things that make it hard for us to sleep. And that was lacking here.

On top of that, I didn’t like the season finale as much as I thought I would. It had its moments and explained a lot, but the climax could’ve been more epic, and I have mixed feelings on the final scene, both in what it featured and how it was told.

Still, all in all, it’s a great start to a series, and I’m looking forward to whatever they cook up for the upcoming season two (maybe something involving my man Leland Gaunt?). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Castle Rock a 4.3. Take a visit to the Rock, and hope that while you’re there, you come out with all your fingers attached.

That’s all for tonight, my Followers of Fear. Expect a review tomorrow for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse (I’d review it tonight, but it ends after I should be in bed!). Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*I’m reading Apt Pupil right now, and that part had me frozen in my seat!

Oh my God, it’s finally Day 10! We’re at the end! Whoop whoop!

So if you’re tired of me posting every day (sometimes twice daily), don’t worry, I’m planning on going back to my one-or-twice-a-week schedule after this. It’s too much of a hassle to keep posting day after day after day like this. It was still fun to share my favorite books with you, but still. a lot of work.

Anyway, here’s the rules for the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew (who is probably glad this thing he started is coming to an end):

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

So for the last day of the Ten Day Book Challenge, I picked a book I read quite recently. Actually, I finished reading it on Day Four, on the ride back from the chiropractor’s. The book is the Future Days Anthology from my publisher Castrum Press:

There are several reasons why I wanted to highlight the Future Days Anthology. Obviously, it’s from my publisher, so I wanted to highlight it and support them, even if I’m not in this anthology (maybe I’ll be in a later one). Besides, supporting small presses and their authors allows for decent competition in the publishing industry and allows the authors to feel their hard work has paid off, which is never a bad thing.

Another reason why I wanted to highlight Future Days is because it’s fairly recent: it was only published August 15th this year, so it’s barely been out a month. The first couple of months a book is out is very important, so I’m happy to spread the word.

But the most important reason is because, let’s face it, this is some damn good sci-fi!

As I mentioned in my most recent interview with Matthew Williams (who is also in this anthology) I’ve always been of the opinion that good science-fiction should show us a reflection of humanity’s current state, as well as what humanity could do in the future. The Future Days anthology does this quite well, in my opinion. First, it takes a lot of issues that we’re currently dealing with as a species today–overpopulation, the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and corporate power over common people’s lives–and explores how those issues might shape our lives in the generations to come.

As for where we’re going as a species,* that’s given a lot of exploration too. Space exploration to be exact: many stories deal with the challenges humans might encounter once interplanetary travel and off-world colonization becomes possible. Who will pilot and care for the ships during the long travels between worlds? What will be the physical and psychological effects of such travel? Are there ways to get between planets faster?

The value of human life also gets plenty of examination: what happens when, in an increasingly technological age, we’re no longer able to hold jobs now occupied by machines? How much sway do the powerful have over the lives of the weak?

I could go on, but then why spoil the fun? If you’re looking for some decent hard science fiction, look no further than the Future Days Anthology. With several great stories from a variety of excellent sci-fi authors, you’ll be transported when you read it. Don’t believe me? Go to Amazon now and check out some of the reviews (including the one I left). And if you’re still not convinced, just read the book. Believe me, it’s worth it.

And before I forget, I have to nominate someone. Adan Ramie, you’re tagged! I look forward to seeing what you put out.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. With September here, Halloween is approaching, as is just about everything else awesome about this season. And I’m going to revel in every aspect of it.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Or where you’re going as a species. I still maintain I’m only half-human on the best of days, and there’s plenty of proof that’s not just me messing around.

Agh! I’m late! I have to get to my flight! I’m flying a dragon back to Ohio. And while dragons are rather flexible with what time they take off (they’re awesome that way), I’d rather not keep this one waiting. Anyway, welcome back to Day Nine of the Ten Day Book Challenge. I’m almost through with this challenge, so I’m making sure to keep putting up interesting books so neither you nor I get bored with it.

Thanks again to my cousin Matthew for nominating me for this on Facebook. I hope you don’t mind I made this into a blog thing. And if you do…well, it’s too late to do anything about it, isn’t it?

Now for the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the other reason why I decided to take up a History major in college and studying the Holocaust. That book is Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally (yeah, not all of these are fiction novels. Some are about actual events).

I’d seen the movie earlier in the year I read this book, so I was curious about the book it was based on. I ended up reading it during a five-week trip to Israel alongside The Plot Against America. And Schindler’s List affected me way more than Plot. Reading all those stories from people who had known Oskar Schindler, a complicated man who grew to care deeply about the Jews under him and decided to risk everything to protect them, in a time where that could lead to execution, spoke to me on a level that few books do. I decided then to study the Holocaust when I got to college alongside English and creative writing.

I also came back from Israel with a ring on my finger that says in Hebrew, “He who saves a life, it is as if he’s saved the world entire.” This is similar to the ring Oskar Schindler was given at the end of the book and the movie, and I had it custom made so I could remind myself of that every day. I still have that ring, and I wear it every day. It shows how much one person can do if they put their minds to it, and the good that come from it.

Perhaps someday I can have the same effect or inspiration on someone else someday. We can hope.

Today I’m tagging my friend Tricia Drammeh. Hope you have fun, Tricia. I know I have.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m headed back to Columbus. I look forward to sharing the last book in the challenge with you tomorrow. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

Don’t fly off without me, dragon! I need to get home!

It’s Saturday, and I’d like to be sleeping in. However, weekends don’t mean I’m slacking off. Or maybe I am, but I don’t consider it slacking off. I’m just working in a way most people don’t see as working. Anyway, welcome back to the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought by my cousin Matthew. Here are the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is special for me, as it was part of the reason I took up a history and studied the Holocaust in college. Allow me to introduce The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth.

An alternate history story, Roth inserts himself as the childhood narrator in an America where Charles Lindbergh gets elected President of the United States during the rise of Nazi Germany and Hitler. Lindbergh acquiesces to the wishes of the America First crowd and declares America neutral when it comes to events transpiring in Europe. However, moves made by the government under Lindbergh makes Roth’s family and many Jews suspicious that Lindbergh may secretly be a Nazi sympathizer or pawn. And as time goes on, events transpire to make that fear seem very reasonable.

Alternate history is supposed to give us a view of what could’ve happened if a few things were different, and The Plot Against America does just that. While I do find it difficult to believe that Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer, it does go to show what could’ve happened if his America First policies did shape America for a few years, as well as if more anti-Semitic practices or ideas were made law. But it also shows what could happen if a young boy in America saw his very people suddenly under threat, at risk by something behind-the-scenes, and how his family reacted to that. It’s not just interesting, but engrossing and makes you think about how only a few minor things could have seriously changed America’s destiny.

From what I hear, a TV miniseries based on the novel is in development under the guy who created the TV show The Wire. Honestly, with the resurgence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists in America, I can’t imagine a better time to adapt this story. Hopefully it gets a good network or streaming service that will ensure it’s seen by a lot of people. And in the meantime, I hope you take the time to check out the book. Believe me, it’s worth a read.

Today, I’m tagging my friend Pat Bertram. Pat, I know you’re busy these days, but I think it’d be cool if you could do this. Good luck if you can!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be back later today with a review of The Nun. Until then, I hope you’re enjoying the weekend. I know I plan to.

Good morning, everyone! Crazy to think I’m on Day Seven of this thing. And trying to think of a book for each and every day is a challenge in and of itself. Well, hopefully after this post, I’ll be able to do the next three days without too much work. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Anyway, welcome back to the Ten Day Book Challenge, caused by my cousin Matthew nominating me and by me just turning it into a blog challenge rather than a Facebook challenge. Here are the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book will be surprising for those of you who’ve been following this thing from the beginning. It’s not horror, and it’s not a book that I read during my childhood. Instead, it’s one I read during my late teens and that I still think of as a beautiful story every time I think of it: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

This novel is just a beautiful story, following a young shepherd who has a dream that he’ll find great treasure near the pyramids of Egypt. When he has this dream three nights in a row, he takes it as a sign and starts a journey from Spain and along the length of North Africa to Egypt. Along the way, he encounters many amazing characters and learns much about himself and about the world, as well as the power of action and fulfilling your destiny.

Both literature and inspirational self-help novel, The Alchemist is all about following your personal destiny and overcoming obstacles that arise to keep you from doing that. I feel that a lot of people are too afraid to seek their own destiny or just pray that God or some other higher power will grant them their destiny without doing the work to make it happen. Coelho’s novel is all about taking your destiny by the reins and seeking it out yourself, rather than doing nothing or letting obstacles keep you from doing so.

Sounds whimsical and optimistic when I discuss it here, but when you hear about the author’s own life, you realize it’s not so: Coehlo was institutionalized by his parents as a teen because he wanted to be a writer and take a non-traditional path, and later in life was arrested by Brazil’s military government for ‘subversive activities.” Despite all that and more, he explored himself, became a successful songwriter, and then a successful writer. So in a way, the story in The Alchemist mirrors his own struggles to find his path in life. It’s not just some optimistic fantasy about fulfilling your dreams.

And if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend you do.

Today I’m tagging my friend Caitlin Kelly of Broadside Blog. She’s a journalist with years of experience and has read many great books in her life, so I’m hoping she tries this out. We’ll see.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. It’s Friday, so I’m looking forward to a good weekend here in DC. Hope whatever’s going on in your life, you have a good weekend as well. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Good morning folks, I’m posting from Washington DC today, where I’m again hanging out for a few days for work. But just because I’m working, that doesn’t mean I’m slacking. So let’s get started on Day Six of the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew.

Now before we go any further, I have to go over the rules of this thing again:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the scariest book I’ve ever read, which I came across last year and have been shaking ever since. What book could that be, you ask? The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, that’s what.

I didn’t know much about this novel going in. I’d just seen it recommended to me as an audio book on Audible. It was too short an audio book for me to download (as I listen to these mainly at work and have to make them last throughout the month, I have a rule not to get any shorter than twelve hours long), I was intrigued enough to get it as a paperback. The novel follows David, a twelve-year-old living in the 1950s whose next door neighbor Ruth and her sons take in their cousins, the beautiful teen Meg and the sweet disabled Susan, after they’ve lost their parents. However, Ruth is anything but loving to her new charges, and especially targets Meg to vent her anger at them and at life. But because Ruth is so popular with the kids, who see this awful abuse, many don’t do anything to stop it. In fact, some help out with it. And David will have to make a decision about what to do about this as the level of abuse intensifies.

This novel is terrifying. For one thing, the level of brutality isn’t glossed over, but exposed in terms that leave nothing to the imagination. You see every injury, every attack, every bit of indifference to the suffering of others. It was so horrifying and tragic, there were times I had to put the book down just to process it and keep my equilibrium. It’s even scarier when you find out that it was based on a real story. Yeah, that’s true: there was something similar that happened in the 1960s, and it’s just as scary just reading the details about it.

This makes me wonder, was this novel an attempt by Ketchum to make sense of a tragedy he likely read about in the newspaper or on TV while in his late teens? Or did he already understand, and was trying to make us ask and understand too?

I’m going to caution anyone who wants to read this novel. It is intense, it is terrifying, and it is world-shaking. If you do decide to read it, I hope you have the stomach for it.

Next up, I’m tagging my friend Dellani Oakes. Have fun, Dellani! I can’t wait to see what you post.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got to be somewhere soon, so hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work I go. Yeah, I made that reference, and I proudly stand by it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!