There are two things I have tried and tried over my lifetime, that I have proved over and over again that I am no damned good at. No matter how I apply myself, and even though every once in a while I have small successes, in the end, the best I can hope for is… mediocre.
Those two things are gardening and cooking.
The cooking part is easily explained. I have a lousy sense of smell and thus a poor palate, plus I’m allergic and/or sensitive to many yummy foods. So while I can follow a recipe, true mastery of the culinary art is forever beyond me. (Which, by the way, does not prevent me from idolizing Gordon Ramsay, and learning from him)
There is neither reason nor excuse for my black gardening thumb. I come from a line of people who can stick pencils in sand and grow palm trees. I can see what others do, I can follow directions, but the ability to grow a garden eludes me. And pray for any poor houseplant who makes it way through my doors. Its days are numbered and it will, without a doubt, meet some sort of gruesome end.
Julia Rachel Barrett, on the other hand, is both an excellent cook AND a gardener. Don’t believe me? Look here and here and here and here. And if you want a good laugh, look here. I won’t post a bunch of links to her articles about cooking, but you can follow her blog for some yumilicious ideas.
Am I jealous? No! Okay a little bit. Mostly I am inspired.
And so today, after watching the extended weather forecast closely, because this is Colorado where sunny, 80 degree days are often followed by three feet of snow days, I decided to make attempt #1,732 at growing something in my garden plot.
First I had to find gloves. In the garage. The old man’s domain. I love the guy, have put up with him for 30+ years, but he is … untidy. (okay, that wasn’t the word I was looking for, but this is a family blog). 48 pairs of gloves and none of them match, but I found some with heavy leather pads so I could clear out the pine straw and pine cones and prickly weeds. (Remember the allergies? I can’t touch many green things.) Then I dumped in some fresh soil and worked it in with a spade.
All I planted were a pair of artemsias, a Russian sage (started from seed in Colorado, so should be tough enough) and a kalachoe. I know, I know, kalachoe is a houseplant. My daughter-in-law gave it to me for Mom’s Day, and the poor thing faced torture and death inside my house, so I figured it would have a much better chance outside. Pray for it.
I also replanted my rocks. I do pretty good with rocks. I’ve only killed six or seven, while the rest seem to thrive.
I don’t know what that rock is, but it about 8 inches in diameter and weighs about ten pounds, twice as heavy as what you’d expect. I pretend it is a meteorite and has traveled the Universe.
Long ago, somebody decide a glass cactus was a good gift idea. It’s not. It collects dust and I can’t count how many times it’s drawn blood when I’ve touched it. So outside it goes to protect the drusy quartz and antique iron birdbath.
I have never been able to find a hose that fits right on this spigot. They all dribble and spray. So I built a dam of nifty rocks (the two in the back are covered in fossilized sea shells) so water doesn’t dig holes or drown the artemsia.
Russian sage grows well in Colorado. You see it everywhere. Drought resistant, doesn’t seem to mind the abuse of insane weather shifts, and when it’s full grown, it’s beautiful and smells great. It’ll bring the bees and hummingbirds. I don’t think deer like the taste. Big plus. Notice the rotting pot? I am enchanted by decay. I love to watch things slowly return to the soil and find the process quite beautiful. It seems like the perfect perch for my little pot of pretty stones.
I am so inspired by how nice it looks, I want to do some more. When I run to pick up dog food, I’ll find some flowering annuals and stick them in. The deer will probably get them, but they’ll be nice while they last.
See, Julia? I can garden, too!
Okay. I admit it. I am procrastinating. I’m supposed to be cleaning up a scanned manuscript that I ran through OCR conversion. Not a fun job, and given that it’s for my own book, not an especially urgent job either. Buckle down and work, I order myself, but then…
My sister went to an auction and purchased a vintage cigar box filled with beads. She sent the box to me. Some beads were in bags, but most of those bags were so degraded they’d split apart. So most of the beads were loose in the box.
To some that might be awful. It is heaven to me. I love sorting beads and discovering treasures.
This is nothing new. I’ve been a bead artist, jewelry maker and hoarder for a long, long time. I have a huge stash. Not just of beads either. I also collect findings, buttons, cabochons, and vintage jewelry–much of it broken. I have drawers full of components. Shiny bits to use…someday.
Along with the old components, I have my regular bead stash: seed beads, Delicas, bugles, cubes, pillows, pressed glass, lampwork, stone, wood, vintage Lucite, Czech, Japanese, German, crystals, pearls, sequins, and more in almost every color you can think of and a vast array of shapes.
For those of the beady persuasion, you know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’s shiny, it sparkles, it’s pretty, it’s odd–it might be fixable, usable, repurposed into something gloriously new. Beads and bead hoards are all about potential. They are the stuff from which dreams are made.
Beading is a good hobby for a writer. My preferred beading techniques are peyote and brick stitch using Delicas or 15/0 seed beads. (off-loom weaving techniques using very small beads and hair-thin needles). Beading requires patience. Things get done one bead at a time, much as books get written one word at a time. It can’t be rushed. Repetitive motions are very good for thinking. With the hands soothingly occupied (except when a needle is jammed accidentally into flesh or a sliver of Nymo works it way under my nail bed) my mind is free to wander. Some of my best story ideas come when I’m playing with beads.
They’re also a great way to procrastinate. Hey, I’m allowed. That big pile of seed beads and bugles and miniature glass pearls won’t get sorted by themselves.
You might think that chihuahuas and nursing homes would be a poor mix. Like beer and milk. Some people think that chihuahuas don’t mix well with anything. Some people think that chihuahuas are nasty little fuckers that yip and bite.
To be perfectly honestly with you, the worst dog bite I’ve ever had was bestowed upon me by a chihuahua. A lot of them are nasty little fuckers. If YOU only left the house in a purse, if YOU were cold all the damned time, if YOU lived in a land of giant feet, you’d be a nasty little fucker, too. My chihuahua is the Ellen Degeneris of chihuahuas. He’s not the prettiest but he seems like the prettiest because he’s funny and he’s so damned glad to see ya’.
I take my chihuahua to the nursing home now and then to visit my mother. She asks me to bring him. Sometimes she begs me to bring him. In spite of being desperate to see my chihuahua, my mother can barely remember his name. Not because she is in the throes of forgetting everything…the honest truth is she barely remembers anyone’s name because her head is so full of herself. Few toddlers are as selfish as certain old ladies, and that’s the damned truth. I know that my mother likes my chihuahua, but she REALLY likes the brief fame that a visit from my chihuahua brings her.
We sit in the lobby because having a little dog visit you at the nursing home is no good unless everybody can see the little dog visit you at the nursing home. At first it’s just us and Old Lady Who Obsessively Moves Furniture. I try to ignore her. She jabbers about the furniture and the fact that the furniture is misplaced. She throws her weight desperately against a sofa, which doesn’t budge. I finally get concerned that she is going to hurt herself and I move the damned sofa (which is on castors and slides through the lobby like a breeze over ice). That satisfies her, and she sits down on the sofa she just made me move and pets the cute little dog.
I don’t know if the aroma of dog gets into the recycled air or what, but people always start to show up when I bring the chihuahua to the nursing home. The first one to hobble in this time is Woman My Mother Argues With In The Dining Room Because They Both Want To Open Little Old Willy’s Creamer For Him. They haven’t spoken to each other outside of arguing over Willy’s creamer all week. Today, there is peace. My mother’s rival takes a chair and asks us repeatedly how it is that people can hurt cute little dogs like this cute little dog. We all agree that some people suck. Several times.
Next in is The Preacher. I’m not sure why he lives in the nursing home. He is one of the few residents who can walk unassisted. He’s so mentally sharp that I thought he was another visitor the first five times I saw him. Maybe his family is tired of hearing him preach and they kicked him out. I would get tired of having a fundamentalist preacher for a relative really quick. Maybe he’s actually an atheist and he just THINKS he’s a fundamentalist preacher and that’s why he’s in the nursing home.
Nobody likes The Preacher much. He is always dourly judging everybody. Apparently he threw a big ol’ “This is SATANISM!” downer monkey-wrench into the facility’s Halloween party, an event so tame that most two year olds would have bitched that it was boring.
My chihuahua, recognizing that the mouthpiece of Christ has arrived, gets on his hind legs and dances around. The Preacher claps his hands and dances with my chihuahua, weirdly risking eternal damnation to dance with a little dog.
We embark on a lively group discussion where everyone wonders whether my chihuahua could cure asthma, diabetic neuropathy, and corns. Chihuahuas actually have been said to have healing powers. It has always been a chihuahua sales pitch. It started back when all dogs had to be good for something. Chihuahuas weren’t good for herding cattle or…well they weren’t good for anything that people have historically wanted dogs to do. So they became magical.
The conversation stops when an old lady who looks like she lost a gang brawl wanders in. Black eyes, face yellow and blue with bruises and swollen tight; a line of stitches railroad tracks across on her forehead.
“She’s mean,” my mother informs me, like nobody else in the room can hear. Maybe they can’t. We have had to talk awfully loudly to carry on our conversation. I’m not willing to chance being overheard. I wonder to myself if Mean Beaten Up Old Lady really IS mean and if somebody waited until she was asleep and beat the shit out of her with a walker. She is STUNNINGLY beaten up.
Mean Beaten Up Old Lady sits down and says, “I have a question. Does anybody think I should see a doctor?”
“You already seen a doctor,” yells Furniture Mover, and taps her own forehead to indicate the stitches.
Mean Beaten Up Old Lady touches a hand to the stitches and is obviously surprised to find them there. “Oh. I guess I did see a doctor. I fell. On my face. LOOK! It’s a little DOG!”
So my chihuahua gets in Mean Beaten Up Old Lady’s lap and licks her hurt, fallen-on face. No miraculous healing takes place, unfortunately. I don’t think the lady is mean. I don’t know what gives. My mom tells me later that her source of gossip maybe wasn’t so reliable and maybe the lady isn’t so mean, after all.
Greetings all done, my chihuahua sits in the center of the floor and everybody admires him and talks about how great chihuahuas are. Except for someone’s sister’s chihuahua. That was a mean little dog. Except for someone’s mother’s chihuahua. That was a mean little dog, too. Actually, nobody has anything good to say about any chihuahuas except for this chihuahua right here. This chihuahua right here crouches like a Sphinx and wags his tail like mad.
I got into an argument with my cable service provider and ended up cancelling TV before the new season of The Walking Dead began. This bummed me out until I discovered I could buy episodes from Amazon and watch them on my Kindle Fire. Well… Well. After how disappointed I was in the last season, I was hesitant about watching this season. Marina kept talking about it and I am forever the optimist, so I’ve been keeping up.
And not digging it. Not at all.
Rule Number One (and the only rule that counts): Don’t be a bore.
Sorry, TWD, but this season is a wretched bore.
You writers have made an elementary mistake. You’ve mistaken situation for plot. I don’t care how interesting any particular situation might be, it can only hold a reader’s or viewer’s interest for so long. The zombies are a situation. Once you’ve killed a few thousand and had them kill a few dozen characters, nobody cares. They just aren’t that interesting.
What makes any story interesting is the drama. Drama comes from the characters. Boy, have you guys dropped the ball regarding TWD characters. Your second elementary mistakes lies in narrowing the individual stories to the situation. The characters are flat because the only thing they do is react to the zombies. Fine, we get it. Zombies bad. Kill or be killed. You’ve reduced the characters to survival mode, but survive for what? I wouldn’t want any of those sad sacks to attend my Christmas party. Last season you had some interesting conflicts playing out. Glenn and Maggie’s romance. Shane’s struggle with madness. Herschel’s hope for a cure. This season? Stick them in a prison. Big whoop. I had hopes for Andrea and Michon. But all Andrea is doing is playing mouthpiece and Michon just wanders around looking sullen. And the governor? Come on! Haven’t we seen this villain in just about every bad movie ever produced? The guy’s picture should be in the dictionary next to “Stereotype.”
I have a suggestion for you (that is, if you’re hoping for another season–if your real goal is to kill everybody off and the season finale will be a gray screen with THE END IS OVER, then ignore this post). If you want to salvage TWD, watch Faith.
Faith is a Korean fantasy-historical series. It has time travel and a mystic warrior and a king and queen and sword fights and martial arts and an annoying twit of a heroine and absurd sub-titles and gorgeous production values and wonderful costumes. Mostly what it has are incredible characters.
Every night for the past week I’ve been watching Faith on hulu.com. It’s riveting. I am caught up in the story. I am invested. Why? The characters.
As I said, the heroine is an annoying twit. She screams and whines and overacts and screws up and accidentally stabs people. She shouldn’t be likeable. Except… she wants to go home. She was kidnapped from the future and she doesn’t belong in ancient Korea. It frightens her. She doesn’t understand the culture. That’s kind of her strength, too. The other characters don’t understand her either and they either over- or under-estimate her. Annoying or not, she’s never boring.
And the hero? This is a guy with a story. What he wants is to honorably fulfill his obligations so he can retire peacefully. He’s suicidal, too, and you’d think that would make him a downer, but it’s a cultural thing and it doesn’t mean he’s depressed. It means that’s a reasonable option for him, which actually heightens suspense and causes genuine conflict between him and the heroine. Plus, he keeps making promises he is honor-bound to keep, so he’s in conflict with himself, too.
You want a villain? Watch a few episodes and meet Excellency Gi Cheo. That guy is evil. He’s also charming and sly and funny, and he tries to hide a huge weakness. He doesn’t just want power. He wants everything! If he can’t get it through the people, he’ll kill them all and get new people. If he can’t it through the king, then he’ll get a new king. And if heaven tells him no? Well, he’ll figure out a way to remake god. He’s fascinating to watch.
Faith knows how to use female characters. Strong, active female characters with their own stories, desires, goals and conflicts. A queen and a court lady and female warriors and an assassin and a drug dealer. The writers on this show aren’t afraid to give the females stories and big dreams and interesting things to do.
Know why viewers hated Lori? Because you bounced her around like an irritating puppet. What did she want? What was in her heart? Every time you worked up an interesting conflict for her, you solved it with a zombie attack.
So do yourselves and the fans of TWD a favor and watch Faith. pay attention to the characters. You’ll learn something.
Jaye asked me to write some kind of Top Ten List for her blog as the year winds down. So I sat down to work and realized that I’m not trendy enough to write a Top Ten List. I don’t even know what happened in the Bottom Ten this year. I can’t write a Top Ten Shits My Dogs Took List or a Top Ten Times I Watched Hoarders And Laughed List. Well, I can, but Jaye will snicker at those lists and then make me do another one. So I’m hoping that she’ll let me squeak by with a Top Six Things I Like Best About Having A Kindle List.
I got my Kindle this April and a lot of other people will be getting Kindles for Christmas. I’ve gotten some shit for having a Kindle, believe it or not. I’ve had people sniff at me and say that they prefer REAL books. I take that to mean that they have an extreme letch for paper mills. Books are about words, not about the delivery system.
Ereaders free us to read what we want to read, when we want to read it. They free us to participate in the world of literature on a deeper level than ever before. My list is all about freedom.
The Top Six Things I Like Best About Having A Kindle
- Pornography: Let’s just get this one out of the way right off the bat. You can buy dirty books from the comfort of your own home. Nobody has to know what kind of perv you are. It rocks.
- Free Samples: You have to watch out for sample reading on your Kindle. It’s great to get a nice chunk of a book for free. It’s great to be able to leisurely sample a book rather than flipping through a few pages in a store. But I reached a point where I realized that I hadn’t read an entire book in months.
- Spare Change and Kindle: I had a lot of spare change sitting around, daring me to roll it and take it to the bank. I never did, of course. I couldn’t take it to a Coinstar machine because THERE IS A FEE FOR USING THE MACHINE…unless you get a gift certificate. There is no fee if you get your change turned into a gift certificate. I took my change to a Coinstar machine, I got an Amazon gift certificate in exchange for my change, and it feels like I’m reading for free.
- Facebook: If you think Facebook has nothing to do with Kindle, you are dead wrong. Look up your favorite authors. Get special deals on their ebooks and see what they have in the works. Some of them will even chat with you!
- Books I Probably Wouldn’t Have Found In A Book Store: These are mainly horror books that I enjoyed. I’m sure other types of books are out there, but I currently don’t care about other types of books. Most of these, I never, ever, ever would have found in a book store. As a matter of fact, it’s a little hard to find a book store these days. They are going the way of the dinosaurs, offering readers little selection and billions of “gifts” that nobody wants to give to anyone and not much else. I’ll miss book stores for sure, but most of them just aren’t any damned good, anymore.
- Flesh Eaters: I like Joe McKinney. He does zombies the old fashioned way.
- Double Dead (Tomes of the Dead): Chuck Wendig did the one thing I didn’t think anyone could do. He wrote a vampire vs. zombies book that I actually liked a lot.
- Zombie, Ohio: A Tale of the Undead: Scott Kenemore does some fun things with a zombie that can think. Not perfect, but Scott made me laugh more than once. On purpose.
- Fistful of Feet: Jordan Krall wrote one of the weirdest westerns ever. Not for everyone. Kind of not for me, but I wanted to mention it because I do admire Jordan for writing such weird shit.
- Seed: Ania Ahlborn makes little girls scarier than Toddlers and Tiaras.
- Wolf Hunt: Jeff Strand sends two bumbling thugs to pick up a werewolf.
- Clan: Harry Shannon’s werewolves bite history in the ass.
- Blood Is Red: Scott Sigler is an inventive, fun person and his short stories kick ass.
6. Self Publishing: Thanks to Jaye Manus, I’m an author. I can read my own book, Pickers & Pickled Punks, on my Kindle!
See? It’s all about freedom!
Thank you, Marina. There are a few of those I don’t have. Oh well, at least I don’t have to dust my virtual TBR stack. Hey! That’s one more thing to love about the Kindle!
My dear friend, Marylin aka Writing Buddy, held a writing contest on her blog: Things I Want To Tell My Mother. The challenge was, a Christmas memory of Mom told in one hundred words. She got a batch of wonderful entries. Not that I get emotionally involved or anything when I read, but you know, a few laughs, a few sniffles, a tear or two… What a beautiful bunch of memories. I told Marylin I’d love to post the winners on this blog. Thank you for sharing, writers. I loved reading them all.
FIRST PLACE: “Christmas With Mom”
by Leslie Hobson of King, Ontario
It’s that smell that brings it all back. Some heady combination of pine tree, cinnamon candles and cookies. The feeling in my stomach of anticipation so strong that I can’t sleep. I sneak from my bed and watch her sitting by the Christmas tree–its multi-colored lights and the crackling fire are the only lights in the room. She hums a carol softly to herself and I feel warm and safe as I tiptoe back to my bed.
This Christmas, she’s in a locked ward and ther memories are lost. Sometimes she doesn’t know me–but I remember her.
SECOND PLACE (TIE): “Gingerbread”
by Jaime Norwood of Kansas
Gumdrop shingles. Candy cane siding. Frosted orange slice shutters. Cobblestone hard candies of various colors. Someone’s been eating all the chocolate fence posts, and I know who! I caught her wide-eyed on Christmas Eve with cherry cream filling on her lips and a guilty little smile. She breaks off the prized peppermint patty chimney all covered in icing, and hands it to me with a wink.
It’s a sneaky little secrt my grandmother and I share one delightful Christmas Day.
SECOND PLACE (TIE): “Christmas With Mom”
by Mary Zalmanek of Monument, Colorado
We knew that Christmas 2004 would be my dad’s last. I could see the fears on my mom’s face, in her gentle attentiveness to him, in their sweet conversations. I bought birthday and other special occassion cards that would be sent in the future from him to my mom, his children and grandchildren. He signed them before he died in March.
I mailed a Christmas card from my dad to my mom in December. A few days later, my mom called. “Last night I dreamed your dad said he had a message for me, and today I got his card.”
For my birthday last month I was gifted with Barnes & Noble and Amazon gift cards. Friends and family know me so well. The trip to the B&N resulted in some fine booty– soft covers from Neil Gaiman, Stuart MacBride and Steven Brust. It also, unfortunately turned out to be the very last shopping excursion to a B&N I will ever make. Pooh. Bummer.
Much more fun was going nuts filling up my Kindle via Amazon. Two of the books I wanted were printed versions and their release dates were the first and fifteenth of November. So I had to show some restraint. So those went on my Wish List and I marked my calendar. Okay, so I showed enough restraint that I actually had six bucks and change left on my gift cards toward today’s purchases. Oh well. It still feels like my birthday all over again to have ordered Chuck Wendig’s, Double Dead.
Will I be gushing about this book in posts to come? I do not know. I love Wendig’s blog, terrible minds, and I have all his very funny, quite profane, and extremely inspiring books about writing, but the only fiction of his I’ve read so far is Shotgun Gravy, which was very good. I have a suspicion that Double Dead is going to push Wendig onto my very favorite authors list. Will let you know.
The book I know I’ll be gushing about is Larry Correia’s, Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles. The first book in the series, Hard Magic, was… magical. It’s fantasy and steampunk and full of action and adventure and heroics. Knowing Correia, Spellbound is going to be all that and more. So be prepared, much gushing to come.
And now I have to wait for the box to arrive from Amazon. You know what, I bet that will feel like birthday number three.
I just had a birthday. As gifts (thank you thank you thank you, Marina and Abby) I got Kindle bucks. I spent hours browsing Amazon, picking and choosing, adding to my wish list. One of the nicest things about shopping for ebooks (compared to shopping for print books) is knowing that even if I don’t pick up a desired title this time around, I can put it on my wish list and when I go back I’ll be able to buy a copy. As much as I love bookstores, they are very much catch as catch can.
Anyway, thought I’d share with you some of my birthday treasures.
(click here to check out A Bomb Built In Hell on Amazon)
A Bomb Built In Hell, by Andrew Vachss. This is a strange one. According to the author’s notes, this was his very first novel and he couldn’t sell it. I can understand. It’s less a novel and more an indictment of how the Creators in a society create their own Destroyers. The main character Wesley is a tragic figure in the purest sense of the word. He has no hope, no redemption, no chance. If you’ve never read Vachss, I wouldn’t recommend you begin with this one. If you’re a fan of his Burke novels and his stand-alones (especially Two Trains Running, my fave) you’ll find the insights into the author as fascinating as the story of Wesley himself.
(click here to check out the story on Amazon)
Rose In Winter, by Marie M. Loughin. I met Marie online through blogs and Twitter. When she mentioned her short story, I had to see for myself. Only .99 cents! This is a fairy tale. A real fairy tale as opposed to Disney fairy tales with their guaranteed happily ever afters. The story first appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword and Sorceress XXI, edited by Diana Paxton. I hope Marie writes and publishes more, because I could easily become a fan.
(click here to check out Shotgun Gravy on Amazon)
Shotgun Gravy, by Chuck Wendig. I’m a big fan of Chuck’s blog, terrible minds. Last month I got my first taste of his fiction when I read his short story collection, Irregular Creatures. I couldn’t resist this novella about Atlanta Burns, a young girl with a big past. Chuck calls it YA noir. I personally don’t think he should try so hard to pigeonhole it. It’s a story about bullying, and all ages can relate to that.
(click here to check out the book on Amazon)
Here Be Monsters, short stories by Samantha Anderson, India Drummond, M. T. Murphy, Jeremy C. Shipp, S. M. Reine, Sara Reinke and Anabel Portillo. A fun collection about, you guessed it, monsters. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, aliens and even spiders. I enjoyed all the stories, but I’m not going to name a favorite (okay, hint, spider monsters are cool). My only gripe with the collection is that it includes some beautiful dark fantasy art by Jose Manuel Portillo Barientos and Alissa Rindels. I really want to see them in color. Which means I’m going to have get a Kindle Fire. The illustrations are gorgeous in gray scale, but I bet they’re poster worthy in color.
Doesn’t this make you wish your friends and family loved you enough to give you gift certificates for Kindle books? I haven’t even read all my purchases or spent all my Kindle bucks. Go on, admit it. You’re all green with envy right about now. Heh.
My first exposure to Stephen King was in the late 1970s. I was living in Germany and a friend shoved The Stand in my hands and exclaimed, “You have got to read this! Read it ASAP! Hurry. Don’t do anything else until you read this book.”
I was quite frankly, blown away. I became a King fan. I think he was my very first Must-Buy author. I didn’t bother waiting for his books to come out in paperback. I had to have the hardcovers the minute they hit the bookstore. He grossed me out, he scared me, he made me laugh, he gave me a romping good story. Some of his short stories gave me nightmares. I met a lot of King fans and the books gave us plenty of opportunity for discussion and argument with everyone defending their choice of favorite (My faves: The Shining and The Dead Zone, and a special fondness for Firestarter for reasons I’ve never been able to adequately define) I turned a lot of people on to King, especially boys. The first grown-up novel I induced my son to read was Christine. It got him hooked on books.
I felt less than enthusiastic about Cujo and Pet Sematary and The Tommyknockers. All of which struck me as merely so-so books. The books felt tired somehow. Grim. They left a bad aftertaste. After reading, Misery, my first thought after I finished the book was, “Wow, he really doesn’t like his fans, does he?”
King kind of fell off my radar after that. If I found his work in the library or in a used book store, I’d pick it up just to see if the old magic was back. I discovered the Bachman books, which were full of that maniacal glee that marked his early works. I hoped he would write more, but he didn’t. I tried the Dark Tower books, but they weren’t to my taste. I kept reading him, I suppose because I hoped to recapture the old magic, but even the brilliant Dolores Claiborne didn’t charge me up enough to discuss it with friends on anything other than an academic level. It reached the point where his books kept ending up on the DNF (did not finish) pile, and I gave up on King altogether.
But hey, no biggie, right? Tastes change. People change. I can’t imagine King gives a shit whether I’m a fan or not. I’m probably one of the fans he so despised when he wrote Misery.
This week I noticed his collection of novellas, Full Dark, No Stars, at the library. I don’t know, maybe it’s that sweet spot of hope you always feel about first loves. The one that nudges: Hey, maybe this time it will work out. I checked out the book. I read it. I won’t say they are bad stories. Because they are not. Craftwise, they’re brilliant. Story-wise, though, they’re bleak. They’re about bad people doing bad things and good people doing bad things. There are no heroes, there is no love or sacrifice, or even a showdown between good and evil. There is no humor, no bright spots or hope.
In the afterword, King explains that he writes about Truth. Yeah, well, it’s the truth of the bitter and disappointed. I guess it’s all the more disturbing because I honestly don’t know what King has to be disappointed about or why he comes off as such a mean, ungracious bastard. From where I sit, he’s been blessed. He has an amazing talent, and the guts and gumption to develop a work ethic that makes a beehive look like it’s filled with slackers. His legacy is a body of work that has earned him critical acclaim and popular success. Even non-readers know who Stephen King is.
The picture I used to hold in my head of King was of him sitting at his typewriter, grinning, occasionally laughing like a loon, saying, “Oh yeah, baby, this is going to make them wet their panties!” I imagined a joyful man who loved leading readers down twisted paths, telling them jokes, setting them up, scaring the piss out of them and then afterward, shaking hands, saying, “Oh, yeah, that was a hell of a ride, wasn’t it?”
In the afterword to Full Dark, No Stars, he writes:
“But Steve, you say, you’ve made a great many pennies during your career, and as for truth… that’s variable, isn’t it? Yes, I’ve made a good amount of money writing my stories, but the money was a side effect, never the goal. Writing fiction for money is a mug’s game. And sure, truth is in the eye of beholder. But when it comes to fiction, the writer’s only responsibility is to look for the truth inside his own heart. It won’t always be the reader’s truth, or the critic’s truth, but as long as it is the writer’s truth– as long as he or she doesn’t truckle, or hold out his or her hat to Fashion– all is well.”
My image of King these days is much different. I see a bitter, angry man, hunched in semi-darkness, punching out stories full of TRUTH, terrified nobody is going to get the TRUTH, hating all the knuckleheads, barbarians and Philistines too damned stupid to get the TRUTH.
I’m going to disagree with King about writing for money. How else can a reader show appreciation for a writer’s efforts except with money? If readers don’t buy, publishers have no reason to publish, and then what’s the point? I don’t believe King anyway. He doesn’t give his work away for free. He never has. Or maybe that’s what he really wants, to be alone, unread, disconnected and yet somehow secure that he serves some Higher Cause. If the only TRUTH he cares about is his own, then he’s talking to himself and who cares about the rest of us?
But enough of that. I’m not going to presume to know what King thinks or even speculate further on his attitude. It’s just my impression. What I can state with full assurance is that for me, Stephen King is no longer fun to read. While I admire his craft, his care with language, the images he creates, his stories leave me uneasy, but not in a good way. If this is the TRUTH in King’s heart, it’s so sour, bitter, bleak and depressing, I want no part of it. It’s as if he’s forgotten fiction is a two-way street, that the reader’s impression completes the circuit. Instead of enticing me into his story world, he’s telling me to sit down and shut up because he knows better than me.
I can imagine college professors forcing students to read these stories for the craft and because sure truth so dark and grim must be important (Read for fun? Only the idiotic unwashed masses read for fun!) What I can’t imagine is anybody, wide-eyed and excited, shoving these into a friend’s hands and saying, “Oh my God! You have got to read this right now!”