Writing Practice 2/27/2019

What is this? See YouTube video:

Something Strange This Way Comes

This is a single sperm of a gigantic rubber monster. It’s about 600 feet tall, and it lives generally in the Amazon rainforest. Last month it was on a multi-national trek, on a press tour or something, and it got kind of antsy. The handlers realized something was wrong, so they jerked it off. These things are the result. They spew out ten million at a time, and when this one here was blown up into the air it caught the attention of an eagle, who mistook it for a fish. The eagle grabbed it in its talons, and returned to its nest, whereupon it found that there was no way in hell that that was a trout or a bass. Instead of returning to the jungle where it was caught, the Eagle simply dumped the rubber sperm over the side of its nest, where it fell to the ground a couple of hundred feet below, then tumbled down a hillside and landed in a stream. This is all in Mexico, remember, because that eagle has quite a wide territory.

Well, about three days of floating in this stream, the rubber sperm ends up in a larger river, which ends up in a larger river, which eventually ends up in the ocean, in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, this wouldn’t be so bad, except the giant rubber sperm got caught in a blue whale’s mouth as it opened and sucked in [illegible] to capture & eat plankton. That’s all well and good, and would have been fine, except that this rubber sperm didn’t dissolve in the whale’s stomach, and was, in fact, shat out by the whale two days later.

You know what’s gross? Sharks eat whale poop. Yeah, they do. Not on purpose. But they do. So there was a whole colony of sharks following our hero whale with the rubber sperm in its tummy, and when the whale had a massive bowel movement those dudes went crazy; They sucked up all the little half-digested-whale shit they could, and this thing ended up in one of them. Not that bad, really – we find sharks with license plates and buoys in them, for Pete’s sake. But anyway, the shark was going on his merry way, enjoying the Gulf of Mexico, when all of a sudden the producer of Sharknado decided they needed some realism. So they got an artificial typhoon maker and sucked up ten million gallons of water, including our friendly rubber sperm-infused shark. Then they took this artificial dumping ground to Nebraska, no, North Dakota, and dropped it into a tornado, and filmed SharkNado 5 – The SharkPocalypse.

All was well and good until the shoot wrapped, and then the sharks were free to go. One of them decided to make his way to New York to become a dancer, a few went into investment banking, and a couple got married. Our special little guy, though, ended up traveling down the Mississippi River, until he ran smack into Hurricane Ivan, or Whatever it was that hit Texas in 2017. This thing poured a Great Lake’s worth of water on the Mississippi River basin in a day, causing the river to flood. It overflowed all the banks, all the way, inundating all the places. Hell, even out by my house got a foot of standing water, and, unfortunately for the shark, she got caught up in that and stranded on Baxter Road.

She died about three hours later. It took six months, but the scavengers around finally picked off all her flesh, scales, and internal organs, leaving, you guessed it, one Rubber Monster Sperm lying in the gutter, just so I could find it. Isn’t that a coincidence?

Book Review – The Stand, by Stephen King

The Stand was published first in 1978. This review covers the “complete & uncut” version published in May, 1991.

***

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

***

I first read The Stand in high school, probably. It was this exact copy, too, a brick-sized hunk of paper and miniscule type and black-and-white drawings that enthralled me for weeks back then. Of course, anything by Stephen King was fodder for a wild Saturday night spent lounging on the couch for hours, book propped up on my chest, lost in the stories of Bangor, Maine or, in this one, Boulder, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Stand is one of King’s more controversial books. Not for its subject matter (the oft-repeated battle between good and evil) but for the preceding editorial decisions which were made to cut about 1/2 of the original manuscript for publication. King lays out, in a two-part Preface, that this book is not the original manuscript simply restored. Instead, this version is an expansion of that original story. Characters, settings, backstory, even whole subplots were removed from the original in a publication decision: a smaller book would cost less, and therefore sell more copies, and make more profit, so a smaller book was published.

Once King became more popular, and had the legion of fans which would buy anything, a new version was made to capitalize on that profit opportunity. Thus, the version I bought in high school (as one of the legion) and trundled with me as I moved 3 times while an adult.

I did not read that slimmed-down version. I only read this “restored” version, and thus loved it. Also, I was pretty well brainwashed into reading King and only King in those days, so I hadn’t seen enough of the broader story-telling world to reasonably consider the merits of the book by itself.

However, 25 years on, I have been exposed to many more authors and styles, and even critically studied the editorial process and revisionist. As such, I feel in a much better place to evaluate this book on its merits.

To be honest, I find it lacking.

First of all, it is bloated. We get approximately 200 named characters (I may exaggerate, because I don’t want to go through them all, but I’m confident it’s closer to that than 100). Plus there are many characters and subplots that, ultimately, don’t really contribute to the finale of the story. Now, not everyone has to. But there were just too many side stories to consider each one necessary to the tale.

And perhaps there are people who enjoy reading every little detail about as many characters as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I read every word. I enjoyed it and King’s style does keep one moving through the text. Yet I’m fairly confident that the “accountant’s” decision to cut words to make a smaller volume actually forced an editorial process that critically examined every word and ensured each one was necessary.

Second, the illogicalities of the action stand out in stark contrast to the overarching idea contained therein. The premise is that a major, nearly-100% fatal illness is released into the community. Then, what happens to the survivors? It’s the story of a nuclear war without the actual war, and how the survivors must adapt in the aftermath. Yes, in such a situation, there will be much that is lying around just waiting to be picked up and used, but there are still some things which didn’t get explained: how did the survivors who travelled by car (many of them), get the gas out of the pumps into those cars without electricity? We saw one scene in which Larry Underwood pries up a manhole cover to access gas. Does he do this every 300 miles as the tank empties? What about those who don’t have access to the same tools as him? With the electricity off (because all the power generators have nobody to run them), the pumps don’t work, and refrigeration goes out, soon allowing most of the remaining food supply to spoil. Does everyone live on tinned beef and Saltines? There’s just a lot of logistics that seem to be covered, but really aren’t.

Third, the production of this volume seemed to be less-than-perfect. I noticed many typos. Now, some can be expected. Maybe 1 every 100 pages? So in 1,130 pages there could reasonably be 11. I marked 3 in the last 50 pages alone. It was only in the latter fifth of the book that I started keeping track, and I’m not about to go back through just for that, but one would think that the copy editor would have caught more of these.

Finally, though, my major criticism of this story is one which The Stand shares with many of King’s works of similar length. That is, the finale, the conclusion, the climax where all of the tension has been building to finally gets resolved, is, in the end, nothing more than a deus ex machina. We criticize this technique in lower writers as a cop-out. Why not here?

Ultimately, the ending is where this all comes together and lacks substance. Larry Underwood, Ralph Brentner, Glen Bateman, and Stu Redman (accompanied by Kojak the dog) set off from Boulder on a God-given quest, delivered through the mouthpiece that is Abagail Freemantle. This is not something they developed on their own, not something they brought on, or something they actually had any “agency” in. [“Agency” is a fancy writer’s word for the whole of authority and power and action that a character has in a scene or a book.] When 3 of them (not Stu, who fell down a hill and broke his leg and was left behind with Kojak) arrive in Las Vegas for the final confrontation with Randall Flagg, the Dark Man, the Walkin’ Dude, they don’t ultimately DO anything.

The protagonists are not the solution to the problem. They don’t have or exercise any power at all. They simply exist, and wait for the story to take place around them, and the final end to happen for them. Which it does. The hand of God comes down out of the sky and does for them what they were unable to do.

Which begs the question – why did they have to go in the first place? Why were they even there? If this whole thing is a set-up from God to end the R.F. Man, why have the plague only kill most of the people? Why not have it kill them all and start fresh again? And if it was not from God, then what exactly was the thing which came out of the sky and detonated the nuclear bomb, anyway?

This is the same sort of deus ex machina that showed up in other King novels, specifically Under the Dome. It almost seems like he started writing a story, got to a place where he said, “Now how do I end this?”, answered with, “hell if I know. Let’s make it all a dream!” And there you have it.

So: while I enjoyed the book (I must have, because it took me about a month to read it), I’m starting to think that it would have been better as the shorter version. I don’t have that one, and at this point I’m not going to get it, but I have to wonder: is this what Successful Author Syndrome looks like?

***

P.S. Before you get into the whole “Yeah, let’s see you do it better!” commentary on my inability to critique due to lack of peer-ness with Mr. King, note that I don’t have to be a peer in order to give my opinion. That’s the beauty of self-publishing on this internet thing. Any jerk with a keyboard can make his voice heard, I don’t have to have “agency” in this to be able to say what I think. Nobody’s forcing you to agree with me, or even listen.

Non-review of books

Here’s a few books I’ve read recently that I’m not going to review.

The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America’s UFO Highway, by Ben Mezrich. Interesting, but in order to make a point it has to ignore a lot that doesn’t fit with the theme of the book.

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny. Read this one so I could participate in a book discussion group. I liked it, but apparently I missed one of the major points in the narrative when it was either implied or directly stated that what was coming next was flashback.

Aesop’s Illustrated Fables, Barnes & Noble edition. I liked it. I could see a lot of parallels to other morality tales. Just flipping through right now, I find “The Farmer and His Sons”, which is almost perfectly preserved in Jesus’s teaching (700 years later) of the gardener who had a dream that there was treasure buried beneath a tree. I liked reading the whole tale from which we often just distill the lesson. Plus I was intrigued to see Aesop break the 4th wall when he told stories about the slave Aesop.

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin. This won the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the National Book Award when it was published in 1974. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s the passage of time and seeing a fair amount of sci-fi since this was published, but I don’t really get why this would have been so spectacularly received.

Writers of the Future, Volume 34, edited by David Farland. I read this and WotF Vol 33 this spring, to get a better feel for the stories that win the contest, as this is a writing contest I try to enter every quarter. I’ve had Honorable Mentions and one Semi-Finalist. I’d still like to win, as long as I’m eligible. I’ll take being not eligible, because I’ve been published, too.

I think there’s more, but I don’t remember. I used to keep a list of books I’ve read. I haven’t maintained that this year. Unfortunately.

 

P.S. Edited to add – I remembered one!

Adventure Cats: Living Nine Lives to the Fullest, by Laura Moss. Gave me things to think about as I try to train my cat to come with me camping, hiking, and bicycling.

Writing Practice – 4/8/2018

Inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin, Finding My Elegy, p 47.

Between us

is neither forgiveness

nor reparation

but only the sea waves, the sea wind.

 

Between us is a gulf

a vastness

a distance compounded by time,

that destroys consciousness with pity.

 

Between us is

nothing,

for we are bonded like ionic or

covalence or convalescents,

In a place not of our choosing,

surrounded by life not of our design.

 

Between us is

a rift, years old and fights wide,

stretched with each faint slight,

Deepened with each perceived snub,

Darkened with each impassioned plea for reconnection,

because of feelings of duty, an honor, and hobligation.

 

Between us is

a coffee table, with

two coffee cups, and

twelve ounces of coffee, and

three lumps of sugar in one,

and a dash of honey and two

creams in the other,

and two coasters, round, woven of some

brown wood-like material, gently

warming under the influence of

the mugs, and

two spoons, dripping, slowly dripping,

tendrils down their curved undersides

to pool on the ceramic surface of the table, and

a handful of napkins, unused, and

six minutes worth of tears, and

the unrealized expectations you

have now deposited upon that ceramic surface, seemingly designed for only this purpose, to comfort you, to catch your fall, to hold you up after I’ve done the incomprehensible, the unimaginable, the terrible, and told you I can’t have a baby with you, I won’t have a baby with you,

I already had a pregnancy with

you and I don’t any more.

Writing Practice – 2/6/2018 – Write about running out of space

[note: I like this because while I started off generically, it transformed pretty quickly into a dynamic I think many can relate to]

Write about running out of space…

When you’re packing, you have piles and piles and piles and shelves full of books and other shelves full of nick-nacks, and you’re trying to load them into packing boxes so they can all come with you, so they can all find a new space in your new home, so they can continue to be your companions, and they can continue to bring you comfort, peace, joy. But you only have so many boxes, she said you have to limit to three, there’s just not enough space in the new place for all of your items, remember, Jeanie said that, she’s a good daughter, she’s a peach, she’s a doll, she knows what’s best, they said you can have three boxes of clothes and three boxes of other items. They recommend only one box of books, though, as most residents don’t spend a lot of time in their room anyway, and there is that little residents’ library where free exchanges happen all the time, you won’t need more than a few books at a time anyway, because you’ll read one and then trade it out for another one, remember, Gerry, that’s what Jeanie said. 

So, here, let’s not get too sentimental over all of these little guys. I know! Let’s take one of every three, and that way you can have a lot, and we won’t have to fight her over it? She, here, this little blue gnome with the red hat; let’s take him and when you look at him you can remember the other gnomes, too, with the white hat holding a shovel, and that one with the yellow hat doing a cartwheel. I agree, they do look funny. That’s why you like them, isn’t it? That’s why you want to keep them? Well, little Blue here is going to keep you smiling, just you see. See? Here he is, all wrapped up in the paper and put softly in the box, right down there.

Now, about those pens. Quite a collection you’ve got. Any one in particular stand out? Oh? Why? Well, far be it from me to interfere with something used by President Kennedy! That’s obviously a go. Any others with special value? That one, why, it’s spectacular. NO! 24k-karat? How does it write? Well, splendid! Look at your signature. I’d never believe you’re almost eighty. You’ve got the fine motor control of a man half your age.

Why? Well, you see, it’s not really about fine motor control, is it? No, you see that. Jeanie told you yesterday, and the day before, I remember. I was here. With Kathleen now gone, dear, you’re just not able ot take care of yourself well enough. I know, it’s [illegible]. And, yes, quite humiliating. Far be it from me to try and pretend this isn’t hard on you – how rude of me. But – and please believe me here – I’ve seen it many times. A gentleman, still young at-heart and stout of body, will do very well at Piney Acres. Very well.

I’m certain. Yes. I’m certain. Now – about those shot glasses?