Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

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!

Halfway there! And woo-boy, is it going well. I haven’t missed a single day, somehow. Let’s hope I can keep up the pace!

So once again, I’m doing the Ten Day Book Challenge, which started on Facebook and should’ve stayed on Facebook, but why should I do what everyone else is doing? I never have, unless other horror authors are suddenly collecting dolls and going to the ballet while also supporting the Ohio State Buckeyes and practicing Judaism to the best of their ability, and I probably never will. So thank my cousin Matthew for getting me started on this, and let’s get onto 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.

I wasn’t sure whether to do the other Stephen King novel or something else today, but in the end, I decided to get the second novel out of the way and save a particular novel for Day Six. For Day Five, I’m going with another example of quintessential Stephen King: Needful Things.

This is a novel that is both terrifying and hilarious, campy yet deep, and full of all the weirdness that we love about King. It’s also one of those thousand-page whoppers he churns out every couple of years, and I absolutely love it! The story takes place in Castle Rock, the same little town that’s the setting for King’s new show on Hulu, Castle Rock. A man named Leland Gaunt opens up a shop called Needful Things and starts selling the most amazing products to his customers…in exchange for a favor. And each favor exposes a darker side of the town, a domino in a Rube Goldberg machine, all leading to one inevitable conclusion.

I’ve had the chance to reread this book several times since I first read it about three years ago. To be more precise, I listen to the audio book, which is narrated by His Royal Scariness Stephen King himself. And it gets me every time. On the one hand, you have all the scares that you’d expect from King: a villain that appears human but soon reveals himself to be so much more, a spider-creature that Gaunt uses to great effect in the novel, people who are just assholes on a bad day but under Gaunt’s influences become psychopaths and murderers, full of rage and jealousy. On the other hand, you have weird ad hilarious moments like two overweight housewives both believing they’re having very intense romantic/sexual affairs with Elvis Presley, a woman who gets off on having feuds and fights, and a town sheriff whose love of magic tricks proves important to saving the day! And somehow, it all works wonderfully! I hope someday I can write as well as that, because let me tell you, it might come in handy for some of my weirder ideas.

Sadly, this novel has not gotten the same amount of love as some of King’s other works. Hell, the only adaptation is one terrible movie that came out a little over two months after I was born. I think it’s due for a graphic novel or a TV adaptation (which is why I hope it somehow features more prominently in Castle Rock season 2)., but then again, Hollywood doesn’t listen to me that much. They certainly haven’t heard my pleas for an adaptation of The Library Policeman as of yet.

Still, if you’re in the mood for an unusual horror novel with weird and hilarious moments peppered here and there, you can’t go wrong with Needful Things.

And now to tag someone. I hereby nominate my good friend Kat Impossible from the blog Life and Other Disasters. I know you’re busy starting a new job in Berlin, Kat, but I hope you’re able to find the time to do this. Especially since you tend to enjoy book related tags and challenges.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Some of you are probably wondering when a certain novelist I hold in high regards will appear on this list. Don’t worry, he’s appearing today (and this is only one of two times he’ll appear during this challenge).

Anyway, welcome back to Day Four of the Ten Day Book Challenge. I wonder what my cousin Matthew, who nominated me for this, thinks of these blog posts. Anyway, let’s get onto the rules and talk about today’s featured book.

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there. He doesn’t have a blog, as far as I’m aware, but thanks Matthew! I appreciate it!
  • 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.

Well, as I said, you all knew this guy would show up somewhere during this challenge. Truth be told, it was tough keeping it down to two books by this guy, and only two, but I did it. Not only that, but they’re two of his longest books, and two of his best (at least in my honest opinion). The first one, which also happens to be my first of his works and is probably the quintessential example of his ouvre: It by Stephen King.

Where do I start with this one? It was the perfect novel to introduce me to the work of Stephen King; to keep me up at night, afraid that a killer clown would come up to the sliding door of our rental home near the beach to get me; and the perfect book to get me addicted not just to reading horror, but to writing horror. In many ways, this book is just as much part of my writing journey as Harry Potter was. I still have the copy I bought all those years ago, and if I ever get to meet His Royal Scariness, I hope he’ll be kind enough to sign it and give me some words of encouragement.

From what I hear, he’s a pretty cool dude, so I’m hopeful. Not very, but I am. As I’ve said before, weirder stuff has happened in my life.

Today’s tag goes to my good friend Angela Misri of A Portia Adams Adventure. One of my oldest writing friends, and a great talent as well. I hope I get to see what books she’s going to post.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Today’s my only day at the office before I go on a trip for work, so let’s see what I can accomplish in this day. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Before you ask, no this story isn’t some sort of reference to Game of Thrones and the numerous weddings ending in someone dying that occur in that series (spoiler alert).

I needed a break from the novelette/novella I’m working on, so I decided to tackle a short story I’d had the idea for recently to give my brain some breathing room. The story involves two kids who are given a job by a strange entity known as the Master. And that’s all I’m saying, because I’d hate to give away this story before I’ve had the chance to polish it up and maybe get it published.

The thing is, I have no idea if this story is any good. On the one hand, it reminds me of other stories I’ve read that have gotten published in prestigious anthologies and collections. Heck, it even reminds me of some of Stephen King’s early works, especially in his collection Night Shift. And at only a little over three-thousand words, it’s a lot shorter than most stories I write and therefore I might have more places to publish it. However, the story is a little weird. Not surprising given the fact that I wrote it, but then again, that could also work against me just as easily. Heck, even I find it somewhat odd! And in some dictionaries, I’m right next to the word “odd!”

I’m also next to the words “eccentric,” “strange,” “malevolent,” and “interdimensional being,” but you knew that already, right?

Anyway, I’ll let this story lie for a little while. When I have time, I’ll revisit it and see if I can get it published anywhere after some edits. In the meantime, I’ll use the rest of my Labor Day weekend to watch a movie and do some reading. I’ll get back to work tomorrow on the novelette/novella and hopefully make some more progress on it before I have to get back to work on Rose. Fingers crossed that it all works out.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

If you’ve been with me for a while now, you know I’m interested in and an admirer of creepypasta, urban legends and scary stories born and spread on the Internet that seem to have some sort of plausibility of truth to them, even if you can’t prove it. Recently I heard about a TV series called Channel Zero that, like American Horror Story and Slasher before it, told a different horror story every season, though in this case the stories were based on creepypasta. I decided to take a look, and found out my local library had all three seasons on DVD. I reserved the first season, subtitled Candle Cove, and picked it up yesterday.

Guess who spent most of his Saturday binge-watching it on his TV and laptop? This guy. And as this is me we’re talking about, of course I’m reviewing it.

Based on the Candle Cove creepypasta by Kris Straub (unknown if he’s related to horror author and friend of Stephen King Peter Straub), Channel Zero: Candle Cove follows Mike Painter, a child psychiatrist who returns to his childhood home of Iron Hill, Ohio (go Ohio!) after leaving twenty-eight years previously, when five children were horribly murdered and the killer was never caught. One of the children was Mike’s twin brother Eddie. Now back to put old demons to rest, Mike reconnects with old friends and finds out that several children in town have been watching Candle Cove, a mysterious TV series that originally aired during the two months the murders occurred. Its return to TV doesn’t just coincide with Mike’s return, but with a series of events that threatens to rock Iron Hill, Mike, and his family to their very cores.

I was very impressed with Channel Zero‘s first season. First off, there’s the story. Candle Cove tells a slow-burn story centered around its unfolding mystery. It’s very hard to look away as you watch the characters try to figure out the mystery of the Candle Cove TV show and how it may have affected events past and present. It’s also extremely twisty, making you question everything and wonder how it’s all connected. Trust me, you won’t see the finale until it happens, and it’ll leave you speechless.

I also sympathized with a lot of the characters. They each had their own demons to deal with, and as events start getting crazier and crazier, you can almost find yourself understanding why they do what they do. Doesn’t mean you’ll always approve or root for them, but you’ll understand.

Special mention goes to Fiona Shaw (the actress who played Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) who played Marla Painter, Mike’s mother. That character goes through so much, but is probably the strongest character on the show, and Ms. Shaw carries it with every scene. Loved seeing her on screen every time she showed up.

Hello, I’m the Tooth Child. I’ll be in your nightmares tonight.

And oh my God, the visuals on this show! From the clips of Candle Cove, to the figures of the Tooth Child and the Skin-Taker, to even some of the dream sequences, there is so much terrifying imagery! Season One definitely took care to make sure every creepy scene was as disturbing as possible. If any of my works ever get adapted, I hope just as much care is put into the visuals and scares.

If there are any flaws with season one, at times the story tends to focus more on the slow-burn story than on actually making viewers crap their pants. That’s not a bad thing, but for some horror fans who prefer outright scares, the slow-burn quality may be a bit off-putting. But at the moment, that’s the only issue I can point out with this show. And it’s not even my issue!

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Channel Zero: Candle Cove full marks with a 5 out of 5! Great storytelling with a well thought-out mystery and excellent visuals, it feels like something Stephen King might produce from his own twisted imagination. Tune in, and let yourself be hypnotized.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. With September here, there’s a lot of great horror stories on the horizon to read/watch and review. And believe me, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on most of them. Whether you want me to or not.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

The other day, I was talking with someone about what sort of tattoo I’d get if I were the type to get one.* This is a topic I’ve thought of a lot in my twenty-five years, and I think I’ve figured out what I would get. As I explained to my friend, it would be a representation of the horror genre, how the various causes of horror in fiction–like demonic entities, the prospect of death, and of course human beings, among others–have a detrimental effect on us. “It’s corruption of the innocent,” I explained. “The very essence of horror.”

And then I realized something: corruption of the innocence is an essential part, if not the essence, of horror. And it can be found in every horror story, if you think about it. I knew it was part of Gothic horror, as I mentioned it in my post about what makes Gothic horror. But beyond that subgenre? Hadn’t even considered it.

I could have hit myself for not realizing that sooner. It was staring me right in the face, goddammit!

As I said above, I mentioned how corruption of the innocent is an element of Gothic fiction, and we see this in Gothic stories like The Shining. Danny sees the world go from a mostly-nice place where bad luck sometimes causes disaster for good people to a dark place where entities like The Overlook exist and kill people or drive them mad. Said entity also tries to corrupt Danny’s shine, to make that beautiful psychic power part of its own dark self.

Innocence corrupted.

However, this concept is found in other horror stories. HP Lovecraft incorporated it into his work quite often. In The Call of Cthulhu, his most famous work, the narrator starts out as being very sure that the world is a concrete place of science and rationality. However, after going through his late uncle’s effects, he realizes that there’s something awful in this world, a worldwide cult devoted to the bloody worship of an awful god that will one day rise to retake the Earth. And not only did this cult kill the narrator’s uncle, its agents will likely kill the narrator, driven close to madness with fear, before long.

Innocence corrupted.

This story is a great example of corruption of the innocent at work without being part of the Gothic genre.

And sometimes the innocence being ruined here isn’t your traditional childlike innocence. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having your worldview changed. Two early Stephen King stories, “The Mangler” and “Battleground,” revolve around hardened men discovering the world can involve the supernatural or just plain weird (in this case, a possessed dry-cleaning machine and toy soldiers that come to life to kill you). As I said, nothing dramatic. Just a shift in viewpoint.

Innocence corrupted.

Even when it’s so ubiquitous though, I don’t think corruption of the innocent is the essence of horror, as I characterized above. Or at least, the only essence of horror. After all, we can’t forget about fear, which is what horror plays on and seeks to create. Without that fear, you just don’t have a good horror story. Perhaps then, like fear or a powerful antagonist, corruption of the innocent is something necessary to writing horror. Without it, the genre would be missing something that cannot be done without.

So while not exactly the full essence of horror, corruption of the innocent is important to the genre. You could even say it’s wrapped up in the essence of horror. And I’m glad I finally realized after such a long time that it was.

Hopefully it makes writing decent horror stories easier.

What do you think of corruption of the innocent as part of horror? Do you think I’m onto something?

Do you think I should get a tattoo? Would you like to see this design of mine realized? Do you know how any artists who could help me create it?

*For the record, I’m tempted, but my religious beliefs aren’t fond of me getting one. And I’m not sure I want something so permanent on my body, anyway. Especially if I have to pay a ton of money for what I’m looking for. Still fun to think about, though.

Also, I want it on my back. Best place to get it, in my personal opinion.