Tag Archives: Stephen King

100 Words, 100 Days: Day 69. On Stephen King.

Ever slipped into a pair of comfortable slippers for the first time in a while? Don’t you wish you never took them off? Okay, you know that you can’t wear the same shoes day in day out; they’d either fall apart or smell to high heaven.

A friend loaned me a copy of Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars, and I’m taking it on holiday with me. I read the first few pages when the comfortable slippers analogy came to me. King, like all my favourite writers, is a treasure: admire it but don’t overexpose it. It may lose its luster.

 

 

Write Here, Write Now: The Importance of Imagination.

It’s not enough to say you’re a writer; you must have something to show for it, some kind of proof. Whether they’re lines from a poem you wrote when you were four, or outlines for the next Great Irish/American/British Novel, a writer, fledgling or otherwise, will have something written down. Somewhere.

I was tidying out my bedroom the other week when I came across a hand-written manuscript dating back at least ten years. Three things surprised me. First, my handwriting is terrible. I can read the parts where I wrote when I was sober. I can’t read the parts where there was drink taken. You see, I wrote most of it in my local pub. I sat at the counter and drank while writing the book that would make my fortune. I was the source of much amusement to other customers, as well as the owner of the establishment.

The second thing that surprised me is the way the story made sense, in a surreal nonsensical kind of way. Each paragraph, each chapter contained scenes and dialogue that to this day fills me with a certain amount of pride. It had Beatles lyrics sprinkled about the place; it had spectral observers; it had angst and unrequited love – all in 27 drunken pages. Stephen King had nothing on me.

The third thing that surprised me is that I wanted to know where the writer was going with his story. Namely, where did I want to go with it? Was there an endgame? Would the story be worth pursuing? Was it important enough to me to continue?

And that, for me, is the crux of matter. When I was young, I read comic books – as I’m sure most of us did to some degree – but I would copy the story into a notebook, using the pictures and speech bubbles as prompts. I “wrote” Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog stories from 2000AD. I used Captain Kirk and Mr Spock as templates for new adventures set in other universes. In other words, I used my imagination. It was important for me then, and I guess it’s important for me now.

I don’t drink any more, but I now work in the pub where I started my then magnum opus. I may go back to it one day…when I have the nerve to do so.

 

 

The Dark Tower: My Journey Ends.

Where do I begin (or so the song goes, anyway)? It’s been a two month journey, but I finally completed all seven books of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower last weekend. So I’ve had a few days to let them sink into my consciousness, to absorb their intensity and work out what I really thought of them.

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? And be warned, there are spoilers ahead; minor ones, but spoilers nonetheless.

The Gunslinger introduces Roland Deschain, son of Steven, of the Line of Eld.

He’s an enigmatic character, a man of violence, born from tragic events from his past. He is the last of his kind, alone in a world that has “moved on,” may it do ya. It was my third time reading this book, but for once it took me into Roland’s world. This time around, I felt I could move on with the gunslinger and join his quest for the Dark Tower and follow along with him as he chased the man in black across the desert.

The Drawing of the Three is where it went wrong for me last time around. I wanted to stay in Roland’s world.

Eddie Dean of New York

But I forced myself to get into the mind of Eddie Dean, heroin addict. And it was through Eddie that I learned more about Roland and what he had to do in order to achieve his destiny. Eddie’s rescue from gangsters and his “cold turkey” experience endeared him to me. His interactions with Roland provide a fair amount of humour.

Susannah Dean

It was in helping Roland to secure the last of the “three” that Eddie met the woman who would change his life forever: Odetta Holmes Walker, she who was to become Susannah Dean. Odetta/Detta/Susannah lost her legs when a maniac serial killer, Jack Mort, pushed her onto the subway tracks, just ahead of an oncoming train. When Roland and Eddie drew her into Roland’s world, she and Eddie fell in love. But still, Roland’s ka-tet was not complete.

The Waste Lands brings back Jake Chambers, the boy Roland let die in book one. “There are other worlds than this,” Jake said as he fell to his death.

Jake Chambers sees the rose.

And there most certainly were other worlds. At the beginning of book three, both Roland and Jake are slowly going insane. Jake because he’s positive he should be dead; Roland because without Jake, his ka-tet is incomplete. In a wonderfully tense section, involving Jake, a haunted house, a rose that appears to be related to the Dark Tower itself, and a sex-mad demon, Jake arrives into Roland’s world. For his troubles he finds a pet: a billy-bumbler he calls Oy. By far the most disturbing sequence in the book is the introduction of Blaine the Mono. A psychopathic monorail with a penchant for riddles, the novel ends on the series’ first real cliffhanger.

The loyal Oy.

Wizard and Glass resolves that cliffhanger and shows once again why Roland cannot complete his quest alone. Each of his ka-tet brings their own uniqueness and talents to the table.

The book then takes us back to when Roland was a teenager. He and his friends are sent on a mission, part punishment for their impudence, but also because the Good Man John Farson has brought insurrection to Mid-World. It is on this mission that Roland meets the love of his life, Susan Delgado.

Susan Delgado

Roland and Susan carry out a clandestine love affair, but Roland is ever mindful that it will not – and cannot – end well. There is far too much at stake for something as trivial as love to come between him and his mission. The town of Mejoris, where Susan lives, hides a deadly secret: there are forces of evil at work here, and not just human ones. There is a glass ball that contains Roland’s ultimate destiny. It is the fight for the ball, and the routing of Farson’s men and machines, that brings Susan and Roland’s love to an end.

Roland shares this story with his ka-tet as a way of catharsis. Once it’s told, he can now move on with his quest. But it proves that wherever Roland travels, death is never too far behind.

Wolves of The Calla is King’s homage of sorts to The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. Calla Brynn Sturgis is under threat from the Wolves, creatures that appear once every 25 years to abduct children, specifically a twin. The townsfolk approach Roland and his band to help them. Not everybody is on the side of good, though. Inevitably there are some who wish that Roland would simply go away. In the end, there is a resolution of sorts – but at a cost to Susannah.

What makes this book stand out from the previous in the series is that King begins to link Roland’s quest with some of his own work. Wolves reintroduces Father Donald Callahan from Salem’s Lot and it here that we begin to see what the author is up to. The Dark Tower is a meta-narrative: a story about a story, a story within a story. King has gone all postmodern on his reader.

Song of Susannah is the penultimate novel in King’s series. It’s also the one that, or so I’m told, is the weakest of the seven. I suppose one of the books has to be. But I liked it for its brevity. It’s basically one set-piece after another. Susannah is in New York and is in thrall to a demon called Mia. Mia is the “mother” of the child Susannah now bears. (Remember the sex-mad demon from The Waste Land?) Roland is the “father.”

The most remarkable section in this book is where Stephen King brings himself into the story. To his credit, he doesn’t come out too well. He’s well aware of what type of person he was back in the day: a soon-to-be chronic alcoholic, a lazy writer who didn’t want to finish his magnum opus. Roland and Eddie, realising that King is the focus point of their quest, turn up on his doorstep and convince him to complete their story. (Which, as we all know, he did…eventually.)

The Dark Tower is the last volume of the series, a massive 800 page conclusion to all that has gone before.

And it’s a belter. I’ve not read a book that size in such a short space of time. Though I tried to stretch it out as long as I could, I needed to know what happened at the end. I lost sleep reading it – and I don’t regret a single moment.

But did it end well? Did Roland reach his fabled Tower? Yes, of course he did. Did he make the final journey on his own, just as he thought he always would? I’m not giving too much away by saying that yes, he did.

But what of his ka-tet? I’m pleased to say that each character is gifted with an end that’s fitting. I’m not necessarily saying that they all lived happily ever after, or even if they lived at all. There is bloodshed and there are tears. There has to be. But what of the end? Those of you who have read the series know what I mean by the end.

Well, I have to say that I was waiting for it. It kind of ends where the story begins. It’s not a “reset button,” I don’t think. But it makes sense in a way that Lost couldn’t and didn’t. Would I revisit Roland’s world again? I would…but not for a while. I want to savour it for now. I want to remember it for what it is: a bloody good story, an epic tale, packed with characters that fill your head; a book that I can now say, with head high, that I’ve read and enjoyed.

Mr. King, thankee-sai.

I Am Me!

Image website: http://www.uci.edu

Sitting in at a LifeRing meeting earlier on today, I was struck by the difficulty a friend of mine was having with acceptance; namely accepting that he has an alcohol problem.

Frank (not his real name) has been in and out of recovery. He need only think of having a drink and then – bang! – he’s down to the off-licence. But today may yet turn out to be a turning point for him. Frank hit on the notion of self-acceptance; an idea I caught onto almost immediately. If we can accept who we are, and the limitations that acceptance accords us, we can learn to live with ourselves and let go of the driftwood.

So, who am I? Well, for starters, I am a brother, son, cousin and nephew. I am a writer and blogger. I am a student of journalism. I am a boyfriend and lover.

I’m a caffeine and internet fiend. I sometimes think that the people who know me best are those who live inside my laptop, along with wires and microchips. But this is not true. My family and close friends know me better than I know myself, and they make no bones about letting me know that. This is why I love them dearly.

I am a reader of whatever I can get my hands on. I’m intelligent (though not an intellectual). I like football, tennis, snooker, cricket and darts. I hate boxing, trivialities, pettiness, and racial and religious intolerance.

I have been guilty of many things, including all of the above (except boxing). I can be insufferable and occasionally I promise much more than I can deliver. This is because I rarely so no. But when I do deliver, I do it with the best of my ability. I can not do otherwise.

Set me a challenge (like reading all seven of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series) and I will attack it with the gusto of a woodpecker on teak. Because that is what I do. Give me something or someone to love and I will love them until I’ve copied and pasted for the last time.

This is me. This is what makes me who I am. The fact that I don’t and can’t drink alcohol is no longer relevant. I don’t wish it to be so.

Roland and The Dark Tower

This is a fan-made video, using graphics that come from the official graphic novel of Stephen King’s The Gunslinger. I’m not sure who put it together but it’s very well done. I recommend this for fans of the series. The narration is from The King himself.

Ten Things Writers Need To Do Before Editing

  1. Ensure that there’s an actual manuscript to edit. The book in one’s mind  and imagination doesn’t count. The one on paper or saved in a computer hard drive does.
  2. Owning a copy of Strunk & White’s The Element’s of Style is a prerequisite to the job of editing. If you don’t have one, get one. Now. Before you read the rest of this blog.
  3. As well as S&W, a copy of Stephen King’s On Writing should be ever-present on your writing desk. Follow The King and you won’t go far wrong.
  4. Ensure enough time has passed between completing your manuscript and starting the editing process. A month or so should suffice. Any longer and you’re being lazy. I should know. I’m the lazy one.
  5. Read up on your chosen genre. Get tips from your favourite writers. Even better, get tips from your favourite writer friends.
  6. Make a deadline and stick to it. Procrastination works only in plays by Shakespeare. To write or not to write. To edit or not to edit. It’s a no-brainer really.
  7. Stock up on your favourite legal drug of choice; i.e, caffeine, chocolate, cigarettes (filthy habit) or gobstoppers.
  8. Play your favourite music if that’s your thing. I prefer silence when I’m writing and editing my novel and stories. But when I blog, a little music gets my juices flowing.
  9. Have a plan of action. Rushing in wearing hob-nail boots and causing untold mayhem will only result in an unreadable “masterpiece” (which is fine if you want to be postmodern) and a shattered confidence in one’s ability.
  10. Most important, this one. Run out of excuses not to edit. I did – and now I’m editing.

Good luck!

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins.

I’m not even finished with Stephen King’s The Dark Tower and already I’m gearing myself up to tackle a new series, albeit not a seven volume one

I’ve heard good things about this YA (Young Adult) thriller, mainly from my friends Liz Csukas and Jessica Souders. Now, YA is not normally my thing. Okay, I loved Harry Potter and I’ll not hear a bad word about J.K. Rowling’s writing style. It worked for me and the rest of her trillions of fans. But I couldn’t for the life of me take to Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Too much angst for my taste.

I like the look of The Hunger Games, though. The premise is simple (as all the best ones are). To quote from its back cover blurb:

“In a dark version of the near future, a terrifying reality TV show is taking place. Twelve boys and twelve girls are forced to appear in a live event called the Hunger Games. There is only one rule: Kill or be killed.

When sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen steps forward to take her sister’s place in the games, she sees it as a death sentence. But Katniss has been close to death before For her, survival is second nature.”

One first glance, two similar concepts come to mind: Stephen King/Richard Bachman’s The Running Man (remember the Arnie movie?) and the Japanese film Battle Royale. But I’m hooked nonetheless. It’s the first book in a trilogy, and if The Hunger Games grabs me in the same way The Gunslinger did, I’m in for the long haul. I’ll keep you posted.

The Famous Five…for The ASBO Generation.

A couple of years ago a friend on WEbook.com asked me to contribute a piece for his fan fiction project. This is what I came up with. Enid Blyton wouldn’t be pleased, no doubt.

The Famous Five: The Next Generation

“What ho, Dick,” said Julian, sucking on a Benson and Hedges. “Things are really quiet around the estate once Mummy took a restraining order against those dastardly hoodie type youths. They brought nothing but trouble.”

Dick looked up from his Nintendo DSlite(TM), his eyes still showing traces of last night’s monster of a party at George’s place. “Far too quiet for my liking, Jules. I reckon we could get bored very quickly. We need to go and have an adventure.”

Julian stubbed out his cigarette in the gold plated ash-tray that was the centrepiece of a mahogany table in the mansion library. “I agree, Dick old chap. Since winning the Euromillions, we’ve done shag all but party. Partying is so last week, I think.”

“We should give Anne a shout. Haven’t seen much of her since she had her licence taken away. Downright unfair, if you ask me. It wasn’t her fault George made her drink those slammers. Bloody policemen, they should be out there stopping the elderly from being beaten to an inch of their lives for their pension books.”

“Society is wasted on the uncivilised,” Julian mused. He patted his pocket, removed his Apple iPhone and dialled Anne’s number. “It’s gone to her voice-mail. Hello Anne, Jules here. Dick and I were wondering if you’d like to go on an adventure. We haven’t had one for years, not since old Enid passed away. If you’re interested call me back. Bye.”

“I hope she calls back,” Dick said. He put the Nintendo on the table and walked to the big bay window. “Do you remember the old days, Jules? When we went down to the coast, sailed to the islands and found buried treasure?”

“I do indeed, Dick. We were stupid buggers giving it all up to the authorities. We should have kept it to ourselves and bought some decent hash.”

“We didn’t have hash in those days, Jules. We drank ginger beer, ate cucumber sandwiches and frollicked in the fields with Timmy the dog.”

They bowed their heads in respect for the passing of their canine friend, run over by an oil truck while being chased by Smithers the gardener. Timmy was a good dog, a bit frisky with Smither’s Border collie Rhonda, but a good dog all the same. He died doing his duty. Rhonda gave birth to some ugly-looking mongrels a while later.

“Here’s George,” Dick exclaimed. “Looks like she’s brought a friend.”

“Male or female,” asked Julian inquisitively.

“Neither. It looks like we have a new Timmy.”

“Flaming Nora! I’m so excited, Dick. Have we any vodka?”

“There should be some left. I hid it behind the Stephen King books over there. Pull away The Shining, Julian.”

Julian went over to one of the bookshelves and took away the King book. Behind was a half-full bottle of Smirnoff. “That’s spot on, Dick. I’ll go to the kitchen to get the ginger beer. You let George in.”

“I don’t think your mother’s going to like a rottweiler in the mansion, Julian.”

“George has a rott? That is so cool. Let them in, Dick. Mummy won’t hear a thing. She’s sleeping one-off, I fear.” Julian cast his eyes to the ceiling, shook his head, and left the library. Dick followed to let George and the rottweiler in.

“George, it’s so good to see you,” said Dick when he opened the front door. “Is that a new nose-ring? You didn’t have that at the party last night. You didn’t have that either.” He was pointing at the dog when he said this.

George barged passed him without a word, dragging the dog behind her. It seemed obvious to Dick that the animal was afraid for his life of the tomboy. So were most animals, except for dearly departed Timmy.

“Blasted social services,” she groaned. “Brain-dead morons.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Dick asked her when they got back to the library.

“They only want me to move back with my foster parents. They don’t like me kipping in with Jimmy Neville.”

“Why ever not? He’s a decent sort.”

“It’s because his dad’s still locked up and won’t be out for another seven years.”

“That’s a sticky point. Oh, there’s Julian now. He’s brought drinks.”

George dashed over to Julian, grabbed a drink from the tray and knocked it back in one gulp. “Not enough vodka,” was all she said.

“I’m sparing it. Mother found my stash and confiscated it.”

“Drank it, you mean,” Dick scowled. He turned to George, “She’s sleeping one off.”

“Again?” George queried.

“Again,” Julian agreed, downcast. “I’ll have to get her into rehab, the one that Winehouse tramp goes to every second week.”

“Why weren’t you at my party last night, Julian? You missed a right old knees-up, didn’t he, Dick?”

“Once the police went away, it was alright.”

“Me and Sam decided to have a quiet night in and watch Big Brother,” said Julian with a dreamy smile on his face. “We shared a bottle of Bollinger and a prawn curry.”

“Very romantic,” George said sardonically. “And how is lover-boy?”

“He’s very well, but he hasn’t told his father yet. He’s waiting until he’s written his will and about to croak it. Doesn’t want to be cut off from his inheritance.”

George took another glass from the tray, but sipped this one slowly. She appeared to coming back to her old self – the impish grin had made a reappearance. “So what are we up to today?”

Just then Julian’s iPhone rang, the theme from The Dambusters echoing around the library. “It’s Anne,” he said. “Hey there, cousin. You’ll never believe what’s after happening. George has a new dog, a rottweiler. What’s its name, George?”

“Timmy.”

“Timmy? Did you hear that, Anne? George has named him after good old Timmy.”

“It’s a bitch, Julian,” said George.

“Hold on, Anne. The dog is a girl-dog, and you called her Timmy? That is totally awesome…………Anne wants to know where you got her.”

“Jimmy gave her to me as a going away present. I thought I might leave her here. I doubt my foster parents will like her in that dump they call a house.”

“Did you hear that, Anne?” Julian said again. “Timmy’s going to stay here with me and Dick. Are you coming over?………….Excellent! I’ll do a beer run.” He hung up.

“What an amazing day this is going to be, isn’t it Dick? Dick?”

Dick had fallen sound asleep – last night’s revelry had finally caught up with the poor boy. Even the attention of Timmy the rottweiler, who was chewing at his trouser leg, had failed to rouse him.

“Amateur,” spat George. “So what’s the story with Anne?”

“She’s on her way,” replied Julian. “She’s calling a taxi and should be here in an hour. I’m going to the market to get more alcohol.”

“Bring back vodka. Lots of vodka. I’m in the mood to have an adventure, just like in the old days. You can forget getting ginger beer. That stuff makes me puke.”

“No problem, Georgina. I’ll be back in a jiff. See if you can wake Dick up.”

“I’ll do my best, and if you ever call me Georgina again I’ll split your head open.”

“You’re the boss,” Julian said chirpily and off he went, singing to himself, “We are the Famous Five. Julian, Dick and Anne, George and Timmy the rott……..”

Text (c) James McShane 2008

Characters (c) Enid Blyton

The Dark Tower: Vol VII

The Dark Tower Vol VII: The Dark Tower

What would you do if two of your main characters turned up on your doorstep and asked you why you haven’t completed their story? You’d no doubt take a long look at your alcohol and drug habit, thinking it might just be a hallucination.

This is exactly what happened to Stephen King in the/his novel Song of Susannah, the sixth in The Dark Tower series. I had been told that this was the weakest of the saga; the least liked and most hated. I didn’t think that at all. Colour me prejudiced, but I’ve taken to King’s epic like a Jesus to a child. But this was the one where it all went a bit weird.

Characters, like Father Donald Callahan, found out that they, in fact, creations of King’s imagination. But it goes much deeper than that. Because there are an infinite number of multiverses, all centred around the Dark Tower, it makes sense that even universes of the imagination would co-exist along side our own. It’s a concept that takes some getting used to. One has to think so far outside the box that the box doesn’t exist anymore.

Susannah Dean becomes Susannah-Mia, an entity created by a Crimson King-designed pregnancy – a ruse brought about to frustrate and ultimately bring down Roland Deschain’s quest for The Dark Tower.

Our heroes are separated and find themselves in the United States at different times: in 1999 Susannah-Mia are about to give birth; Jake, Father Callahan and Oy set out to save her; in 1977 Roland and Eddie meet their “creator” and somehow convince him to carry on with their story. King writes himself very well. He acknowledges his burgeoning alcoholism as well as the accident that so nearly killed him.

So, by no means is Song of Susannah the weakest link in The Dark Tower chain; it’s a necessary step King took in order to bring about the climax which comes in volume seven. I loved it and will defend it until I reach the path at the end of the clearing.

Song of Susannah

The Dark Tower Vol. VI: Song of Susannah

It was late last night (or early this morning, actually) when I put down Wolves of the Calla, the fifth volume of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. I have to be honest, I didn’t know what to expect from this book. On first glance it appeared to be “filler” material, a sub-plot taken to its extreme, a ploy to get another book squeezed in there somewhere. My initial impression was that this was a needless side-step from the quest: The Magnificent Seven meets Little House on the Prairie. As usual, I was wrong.

Not only is this volume necessary to the ongoing plot of the series, when you take into account character arcs and development, it’s also a rip-roaring adventure story. The Gunslingers ride into town and save the local townsfolk from marauders. Cue Elmer Bernstein’s theme tune. But it is so much more than that.

As a friend recently pointed out, Wolves is stuffed to the gills with pop-culture references. Vampires are all the rage at the moment, but we tend to forget where they came from. Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, was among the first to put a modern spin on them. He made them terrifying again. One of his characters from that novel, Father Donald Callahan, is a major character in Wolves, and to be honest with you, I wasn’t really sure if that was going to work. Too much postmodernist play-acting. A writer losing control of his focus. Those thoughts were prevalent in my initial reading of Wolves.

Doctor Doom on horseback.

But it all makes wonderful sense. Of course it does – it’s Stephen King, after all. This is his universe; these are his creations. If the author can’t play around with his own characters, who can?

Once again, I’m not going to spoil what happens for those of you who haven’t read the series. You have to experience it for yourself. The one thing I will say is, I got this book. I took every idea, every concept that King created and went with it. It’s a journey I’m very much enjoying. So much so that when I finished Wolves, I immediately headed straight to Song of Susannah. If any of you out there have all seven books, ready and waiting, that’s how I suggest you do it: read one after the other.

How in the hell did his readers wait all that time to finish the series? I know I couldn’t have coped.