Stephen King turns 70

“If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.”

Considering I’ve read almost nothing of the writings of Stephen King, and and have watched relatively few of the films based on his work, I nevertheless enjoy his observations about the world.

The first movie I ever saw based on a book of his was The Shining (1980), which I pretty much hated. And it’s because of what happens early on, when the Jack Nicholson character looks crazy pretty much as soon as he’s gotten the keys to the hotel. So the wave of blood in the hall isn’t even scary, it’s comical.

Stand by Me (1986), based on his novella The Body, I loved; a great coming-of-age story. Misery (1990) I Liked a lot, surprisingly given the sudden violence. The Green Mile (1999) I had some problems with, but enjoyed well enough.

The Shawshank Redemption (1994), based on the short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, is one of my favorite films, and that’s true for a lot of people. The fact it was a commercial dud before finding its audience somehow makes the movie more satisfying.

That’s it, out of over 200 writing credits. I saw a little of the remake of The Shining (1997), but not enough to count.

I’ve read various comic book adaptations of the work of Stephen King. None was rendered better than Creepshow by the late Berni Wrightson.

The ONLY book of his I ever read cover to cover was 11-22-63, and I read it in less than a month. I know this because I took the then-newish, 800+ page tome out on a 14-day checkout, and I renewed it only once. But I was not interested enough to watch the 2016 miniseries.

Still, I’m interested in what he thinks on a variety of topics. If I were to read another of his books, it would probably be On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Here are some nifty quotes from the book. Possibly my favorite: “If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it.”

He also has some things to say about politics which I must admit dovetail with my worldview.

Happy birthday to the King of Horror.

Money or mitigating mistakes?

Would I have to relive parts of my twenties? OH, God, please, NO.

bluepillOne finds these on Facebook all the time. Would you rather have this large sum of money, or do something that would be perceived as nobler?

I look at these options, and the choice was surprisingly easy; I’d take the cash. This does not come from either greed or shallowness. Rather it is from the recognition that the mistakes I made – and to quote Sinatra, “I’ve made a few” – are what makes me, ME. This is NOT to say that there aren’t choices I’ve regretted, only that undoing them would mean I would presumably unlearn the lesson of my errors.

To play the scenario out, there’s no guarantee that fixing the mistakes would lead to a good result. I was struck by the fact, in the Stephen King novel 11/22/63, that the protagonist has to make several different attempts going back in time to try to thwart the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. More prosaically, there’s an irritating newish Disney show called Best Friends Whenever, about time-traveling teens, and they too find going back to fix things not so easy.

Would I have to relive parts of my twenties? OH, God, please, NO.

Sometimes mistakes are good. I was giving a presentation at the Friends of the Albany Public book review on The Gospel According to the Beatles. Some of the group’s greatest creativity came from “mistakes,” such as the line “two-foot small” in You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, instead of “two-foot-tall.” Moreover, there is a philosophy that one should embrace errors as part of the serendipity of life. Many inventions were “mistakes,” someone trying to make something else.

Hey, maybe the mistake was not saving enough for retirement, or for The Daughter’s college fund. Taking the money would SOLVE the error.

Online, someone fretted that having lots of money would be too likely to change his life, a legitimate concern, giving the history of some lottery winners. I wrote:
Think of the things
You can do with that money
Choose any charity
Give to the poor
This reference to Caiaphas singing in Jesus Christ Superstar – Damned For All Time/ Blood Money – was totally lost on the participants, alas.

But what say YOU?

Stardancer and other science-fiction/fantasy books

Maybe I DO like “that kind of book.”

stardancerSome months ago, I read and enjoyed Stardancer (The Song of Forgotten Stars Book 1), the first book by Jaquandor, a/k/a Kelly Sedinger, quite a lot, actually. And it won’t be his last book, judging by his Forgotten Stars website. In fact, the second book in this series is coming out this week.

Read SamuraiFrog’s review and the Amazon customer reviews. One line of a five-star review: “What will hold most readers, young or not-so-young, will be the relationships among the characters, the fast-paced action, and the lovely unexpected unfolding of a story well told.”

What I really wanted to write about here, though, is the fact that, for whatever reason, Stardancer has not been the type of book that I traditionally read. I tend to be more of a history/biography type of guy.

I came across this Top 100 Science-Fiction, Fantasy Books, and there are some big-name books of the genre that, not only did I not read, but that I STARTED to peruse, but failed to complete.

In fact, the only reason I finished A Handmaid’s Tale (#22) is that I was in a book club at my previous church about twenty years ago, comprised almost entirely of women at least two decades older than I. Our monthly pick was fiction, and I read and enjoyed, the Attwood book. Maybe I need a group to be accountable to.

Now, many of the “classics” I did read, such as The Time Machine and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, as well as the comic book-related material – Watchmen and Sandman.

As for some of the other books:

1. The Lord Of The Rings. For a good long while, I owned the trilogy, in colorful paperbacks; maybe I still do. I thought I’d read The Hobbit first. Got to about page 59 and lost interest. I did see the first LotR film, but none of the subsequent ones.

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert. Started the first book; did not finish.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin. Did NOT give this 1969 book a fair shake. I was lent this, and quite possibly Stranger In A Strange Land (#17) when I was recovering from a car accident in 1972. I just wasn’t focused enough to read them.

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard. I DID read a lot of Conan comic books. In fact, one of the few comics-related materials I still own is a short white box filled with Marvel’s Savage Sword of Conan. But never read the source material.

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. This I DID finish.

I’m thinking that, in the next decade, I want to read – let’s be reasonable – 20 of the books I haven’t completed. Two per year, which will give me time to read other things traditionally more to my liking. Maybe some Stephen King, who I had not read AT ALL until I devoured 11/22/63. Almost certainly Asimov; I’ve enjoyed his essays.

Maybe I DO like “that kind of book.”

Book Review: 11/22/63, a novel by Stephen King

My great frustration with reading this book is that I had a great deal of difficulty putting it down!

I had never read a Stephen King novel, but due to boredom, I ended up taking out from the library 11/22/63, an 800+ page tome. OK, it wasn’t JUST boredom, but also a near-obsession I have long had with the tragic events of that day, crystallized in my mind; my own long-running curiosity about the various conspiracy theories surrounding John F. Kennedy’s assassination; and what would happen if, somehow, the President had survived the attack. (I’m sure I’ll write more about that next year.)

When I checked out the book – allowed for only 14 days, instead of the usual 28, because it’s a recent purchase – the library clerk, who had read it, assured me that it wasn’t one of those King horror books.

Well, no,  and yes. This is a pretty straightforward narrative about a man and a portal to a very specific time and place in 1958. What I always disliked somewhat in some going-back-in-time stories is how very precisely timed the trips were. If one were trying to stop JFK from being killed (or make sure that he was, so that the “time-space continuum”, or whatever, wasn’t wrecked), one would show up in Dallas, Texas on November 19 or so.

What would happen, though, if you had to live in the past for five years before intersecting with history? Would that be a good thing? What would you do with your time? How would you survive financially? (Your 2011 credit card, or for that matter, your 21st-century cash, would not be useful.) Might you involve yourself in other wrongs that should be righted? And would you find the past more enticing than the present? The protagonist says, more than once, that the past is obdurate.

There were monsters, though, in this book, including assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, and a couple of other folks. But the protagonist finds some redeeming characters as well.

My great frustration with reading this book is that I had a great deal of difficulty putting it down! Sleep? Work? Housework? These were getting in my way of finishing this fine, incredibly well-researched book. King addresses his sense of the conspiracy theories, both in the story proper, and the Afterword. Even though this is a fictional account, you will learn much about the forces that led to JFK’s death.

I hope it’s obviously HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Jaquandor’s take on the book.

New York Times review by Errol Morris.

Steve’s Stephen King memories

The thing about Stephen King is…

FantaCo sold a lot of horror film items in the mail order, as well as comic books.

I’ve seen at least five movies based on the works of author Stephen King: The Shining (1980), which I did not like; Stand by Me (1986), which I was very fond of; Misery (1991), which was quite good; The Shawshank Redemption (1994), which I LOVED; and The Green Mile (1999), which had its moments. Also saw at least parts of some miniseries.

I’ve read various comic book adaptations of his work. I devoured his articles in Entertainment Weekly magazine. But until the fourth quarter of 2012, I had NEVER read a Stephen King book, not one. Not even his nonfiction On Writing, which actually DID intrigue me. Or his book namechecking baseball pitcher Tom Gordon.

Let me tell you a story that’s only vaguely about Stephen King. I’ve told it before, but it was some years ago.

It would help if you understood that FantaCo, where I worked from 1980 to 1988, sold mostly comic books in the retail store. However, we sold a lot of horror film items in the mail order as well, including back issues of Fangoria magazine, Freddy Krueger (plastic) claws, and books and comics of the horror genre, some of which we published. It was partly from that experience that I got all “horrored out,” as it were.

There was a graphic novelization of the Stephen King’s Creepshow drawn by Berni Wrightson in the mid-1980s, published by some company. Having connections in both the comic and horror markets, we at FantaCo absolutely knew, from both comic and horror film stores we dealt with, that there was still a demand for this title, but no one seemed to be able to get any, for no explicable reason.

I went to the library and looked up the publisher’s information in Books in Print. The grapevine had it that there were still many copies of the book remaining. I wrote to the publisher and got no response.

About a month later, I called the publisher and was told the book was no longer available, which I had heard from others to be untrue. A couple of days later, I called again, and THIS time, I reached someone else, who acknowledged that they had copies but that it was not worth their time and money for them to send out the books, only to deal with a huge percentage of returns.

Now direct market comic book stores such as FantaCo were quite used to buying comic books on a non-returnable basis, but at a higher discount than the comic books sold at your local drug store. I said, “What if we bought the books on a non-returnable basis?” I thought the guy’s teeth were going to fall out. “Non-returnable?” So, we took 100 copies of Creepshow at 70% off the $6.95 cover price, put them in the store, listed them in a Fangoria ad, and blew through them.

I called the publisher again and ordered another 100. By this point other stores, seeing the book in our ad, were clamoring for this item, so we ordered an additional 500, and sold it to these horror book stores, and a few comic book stores, at 40% off, non-returnable. We kept on ordering in lots of 500 or 1000 until the publisher really WAS out of copies. The publisher made money on an item it had given up on, retail stores got to sell a book they could otherwise not get, we made a decent profit even wholesaling someone else’s book, and this kept the Wrightson/King book from just being remaindered. Talk about your win-win-win-win.

So now it’s Columbus Day 2012. I’d taken all the newspapers I hadn’t perused, which were several, and read them all. I’m in the North Albany branch of the library, with my daughter on the computer, using MY library card (so that I can’t be on the computer, too), while The Wife and my sister are finishing up at the YMCA next door, and I’m rather bored. Then I see it: a book I just had to read…

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