Thursday, April 30, 2015

On Writing - Stephen King

On Writing: (By Stephen King):

I was reminded of this book by an old friend and so I dug it off of the shelf and took a side journey from my other stack of books to read it.  I got this book years ago and I really don't know why I hadn't bothered to read it before now.

The book is divided into three sections.  The first is composed of several vignettes and stories from King's past that are intended to give a glimpse into his inspiration for writing and his becoming a published writer.  The second is King answering questions about being a writer and the third is simply advice from King to anyone who wants to be a writer.

I suspect most people would think that the first section would be very interesting, the second less so and the third probably downright boring.  I found all three sections to be enlightening and entertaining.

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time (or if you've just recently started and went back and read some of the old stuff) you should have sussed out that I'm trying to become a published author myself. [1]  So, it stands to reason that I would like and care about King's advice on the topic. But even the second and third sections have their share of stories from King's life, so even a non-writer could enjoy them.

I read the book with a grain of salt expecting his advice to be things that I either don't do or don't want to do or perhaps can't do, but by and large I was pleased to find that most of his advice are already common practice for me.  I don't edit my stuff in later drafts with nearly as intentionally heavy cuts as King, but then again maybe I should.

Really my only problem with the book is that for the most part its message seems to be a sudden shift in its message at the end.  Most of the book seems to be saying: "Go out and write!  I don't care who you are or what your experiences are.  Give it a shot!  There is no right way to do it.  Just do it!"

But then at the end there is a long section about a semi-fictional author's history of trying to get published.  Which while informative, didn't really say anything that I hadn't guessed at or heard before and seemed to flow counter to the rest of the books message.  This section seemed to be saying, "If you want to be a successful writer, then you'd better do it something similar to this."

There is also a bit at the end about King's experience from fifteen years ago or so when he was hit by a van, was nearly killed and the surgeries and rehab he had to go through after.  The books was finished while the pain of this was still ongoing and it seems to go back to the original message and perhaps with a hint of, "Writing is Life.  Don't stop" thrown in for good measure.  I promise not to stop writing, now if I could just find someone to publish it.

On Writing: A

[1] - I have written four novels so far, but have yet to succeed in finding someone help me get them from my harddrive onto a bookshelf.  Anyone know of an agent looking for clients?


Wednesday, April 29, 2015


[Stephen King's books have been around for quite a while and I can't really see much of a way to talk about them without giving away plot points and such.  So, if you've managed to avoid finding out what happens in his books up to this point and want it to remain that way, I would advise not reading any of my write-ups of his work.] [1]


Stephen King's first book is pretty short and almost should be called more of a novella than a novel. It however was not the first Stephen King book that I ever read.  [2]

Long before I got around to reading it, I knew the basic plot and what it was about.  Girl has telekinetic powers and gets blood dumped on her at the prom, violence ensues.  It was hard not to know about that second fact, anyone who saw the cover of the VHS tape or perhaps the movie poster could easily figure that out.  I'm not sure how I came about the TK knowledge.

I've never liked reading a book or watching a movie when I know what's gonna happen at the end. So maybe that explains why I put off reading this one for so long.  At any rate, when I did finally get around to reading it the first time, I consumed it in practically one sitting.  This time around it took slightly longer, but not by much. [3]

I very much enjoyed it both times.  It is a simple straightforward story.  Meet the societal outcast.  See how the outcast lives.  Dump some more on the outcast.  The outcast explodes.

There are lots of books that are variations on the theme.  Mostly the variations are just what type of outcast we are dealing with and how successful (or not) the resulting explosion is.  This one also dabbles in the 'the outcast starts to rejoin society' sideplot as well.

For all of its simplicity it is a very engaging and well told tale.  I particularly like how King intersperses the story with news articles, court testimony and other things along the way.  I was honestly surprised to find out that he added all of that in the second draft as an attempt to make what was essentially a long short story into a sllightly short novel.

The story about the book goes that when he first sat down to write it, he was so unhappy with it that he threw in the trash and gave up on ot.  Only to come home and find his wife had fished it out of the trash, read it the first several pages and pushed him to continue.

Looking at it this time having read the many King books that come after, you can see that the unique Stephen King style and tone are already well developed and present in this book  The flow of the story and the characters themselves are very similar to even his most recent stuff.

Perhaps what is most interesting is that for all that the book is a Stephen King type of 'horror' novel, it really isn't a book about the supernatural.  Sure Carrie has telekinetic powers and sure she uses them to blow up the town at the end of the book, but the bulk of the novel and the real meat of the story have nothing to do with that.  At its heart it is just a story about a girl on the outskirts of societal norms that is pushed beyond the breaking point.  The story could be changed to have her lose the TK and instead simply shoot up the town and the message essentially remains unchanged.  Perhaps that is why this and many other King books are so successful.

Carrie: A

Movie Footnote: I've never seen the original movie made after the book. My understanding is that it is actual pretty decent.  Something that can't often be said about the film version of Stephen King works.  I believe there was also a more recent remake and if memory serves that one was deemed pretty terrible.

[1] - Which is a long way of saying, 'spoiler alert'
[2] - That would be Firestarter, but more on that when I read/grade it.
[3] - But as I already said, it isn't very long.

Saturday, April 25, 2015



I have memories of when Crispix was first introduced as a cereal.

I remember the original commercial and the jingle and the slogan [1]

I remember getting the cereal not long thereafter;

And I have fond memories of eating it and truly enjoying its crispy goodness and flavor.

. .

Memories lie.

Crispix was on sale recently so I bought some.  When I got around to opening it [2] I was greeted with familiar sights and smells.  Crispix has that unique hexagon shape.  Which, let's face it, is completely there so that you don't start thinking it is Chex.  And it smelled just like I remembered.

After the milk was poured I dug in.

The flavor was okay.  Nothing to write home about but nothing I will ever long for.

In my memories Crispix is crunchy, but has some body to it.  There is some substance to each little bit.

In reality, each one has about the same thickness and substance as two corn flakes.

But the real travesty is that while they are crispy right out of the box and they are crispy when the milk is poured, that is a condition that lasts for approximately five seconds after that.

It's time for a new slogan. [3]

Crispix: C

[1] - "Kellog's Crispix is crispy times two."
[2] - Likely the next morning, but possibly that night.
[3] - "Kellog's Crispix is crispy for two [seconds]."


Monday, April 20, 2015

Stephen King

Stephen King:

This one isn't going to be much of a mystery when it comes to the ultimate grade, so I'll save you the suspense.  He gets an A+.

I once read a quote by  person attempting to put down Mr. King's work in which they said something along the lines of, "He's the McDonald's of horror."

I assume they meant that he's written quite a lot and that it seems made for the masses and thus isn't true literature.  If you ask me, in the end, it's not much of an insult.  If I could be the McDonald's of anything, I'd jump right on that opportunity.  [1]  Millions of dollars and millions of fans sounds pretty good to me.

Just because something is popular, doesn't make it bad.  Just because something isn't Moby Dick, doesn't make it bad either.  Stephen King books manage to itch some back, dark corner of your brain that needs a scratch every now and again.  Sure there are probably lots of other creepier, scarier writers out there.  I don't care.

I loves me some Stephen King books.  

As the Pook can attest, I literally own them all.

And I've read them all.

He is one of my three favorite authors. [2]

While Mr. King is still putting out new material, it doesn't come out nearly as fast as I'd like, so to get an appropriate King fix, I've made the following decision.

I'm going to reread all of them.

Yes, all of them.

From the really good (Misery, Salem's Lot, Firestarter) to the really bad (Insomnia, Tommyknockers).

From the short (The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Carrie, Thinner) to the seriously long (The [uncut] Stand, The Dark Tower Series).


From the tame (Eyes of the Dragon) to the downright creepy and dark stuff (All Dark No Stars).

And of course, I'll give it all a grade.

My current plan is to go chronologically. [3]

Feel free to read along if you'd like.

Stephen King: A+ [4]

[1] Heck, I'd be the Wendy's of anything.
[2] The other two are Dick/Felix Francis and Nick Hornby.  I own everything by them as well.  In fact if you are looking for something new to read, I would heartily recommend any of the three.
[3] I've actually already started Carrie.  I'm about 40 pages in.
[4] Told you so.  Also, I should probably be clear that I am just talking about the books.  Some of the movies are good.  I few are great.  Most kind of blow.  The TV shows don't fare much better.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A Movie Plot

A Movie Plot:

Imagine this movie:

The main character is a young man without a whole lot of prospects.  Living in the shadow of his older siblings and with no real likelihood of getting/inheriting anything on the home front, he heads out to make his own way.

Naturally he meets a girl and they immediately connect.  They seem like a perfect match.  But of course her family disapproves of their whirlwind romance.

Determined to make it all work out the hero starts manipulating things.  He's doing a little deceiving and he's working all the angles. He's got a lot of balls up the air and he's managing to keep everything in motion.   And while what he's doing isn't exactly on the most honest and straight and narrow of paths, his heart is in the right place.  He has a girl to win and a fortune to claim.

Of course things start to spiral out of control and then just as it seems there is no way he can pull it off, *****[1] everything comes together.  The girl is his and he's made a name for himself.

Roll Credits.

Perhaps at this point you are saying, "Mister B, this is not a very original movie plot."

Well you would be right.  There are countless movies that follow this general script.  Off of the top of my head: The Secret of My Success, Some Kind of Wonderful, Opportunity Knocks, 10 Things I Hate About You, etc, etc, etc.  Really just about every other movie made in the 80's

Okay, now go back to the place marked with the five asterisks (*****) and change the ending.  Scrap everything after that point and change it to:

everything gets worse.  The more he tries to keep it together the more things spiral out of control.  The more they spiral out of control, the more frantic he gets.  In the heat of the moment he starts making some bad decisions and before he knows what's really going on, he's stepped a bit too far over the line.  Instead of the hero of our plot, he's the villain.

I've just described Hans from Frozen.

The more I watch this movie [2] the more I feel bad for him.  One little twist of fate in the other direction and the credits are rolling, everyone is happy and he's got the girl.

Yes, I know.  You want Anna to end up with Kristoff.  That's only because you've seen the movie as scripted.  You've seen the wheels come off the wagon.  But you can't deny Anna and Hans have a connection at the beginning of the movie.  I don't know about you but I've never met someone before that I could immediately sing a complicated duet with. [3]  They were BOTH singing, "You and I were just meant to be."

If there was no Kristoff and the movie was scripted differently, you'd have been cheering at the end when they ended up together.

Just saying. [4]

Hans [5]: B-

[1] - Note this place.  It will become important later.
[2] - It's the Bean's favorite.  We watch it and/or listen to the soundtrack a lot.
[3] - Not even the Pook.
[4] - Yes, I know he tries to kill Elsa with a sword.  At that point, everything is so chaotic and out of whack he's been taken over by temporary insanity.  You may be laughing now, but there are plenty of real world stories (and movie stories) in which someone gets caught up in the moment and takes things one step too far without really realizing how far over the line they've managed to get.
[5] - Either a victim of bad luck or perhaps just simply on the wrong side of that Disney Magic.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Led Zeppelin IV and Taylor Swift Red

Led Zeppelin IV and Taylor Swift Red:

I wandered into my local Disc-Go-Round [1] looking for a David Bowie CD [2].  I was unable to find the Bowie disc, so I began browsing looking to see if something else caught my eye. [3]  It was then I remembered that my music collection was sadly lacking in that I actually didn't own any Zeppelin. [4]  So I picked up Zeppelin IV and then Taylor Swift's Red CD caught my eye.  I also didn't own any of her CD's, but in one of those weird serendipitous cosmic sets of coincidences, she and her music had come up a lot in several recent unconnected conversations and programs. [5]  So I took it as a sign that I should get both.

Before I actually gave either a listen it seemed obvious that this would be a perfect opportunity to compare the two.  If not necessarily a fair two things to compare.

Granted that while as I previously mentioned I didn't own and had never owned any Zeppelin CD's before,  [6] I have heard plenty of their songs.  As for Taylor Swift, I think I could count the number of her songs I'd previously heard on one hand and I probably couldn't name the title of a single one, save Blank Space. [7]

So without further ado, after having twice listened to both CD's completely, a comparison of Led Zeppelin IV and Taylor Swift's Red.

1) Length:

Zeppelin IV has eight tracks on it.  Red has sixteen.  Personally if I get a CD and it only has eight songs I usually feel kind of ripped off.  [8]  There are exceptions to the rule, Donald Fagan's Nightfly for example.  Of course there are also CD's that have plenty more songs, but it's clear that the artist was scraping things off the sides of barrel to fill up the disc.  So, I'd rather have a shorter disc of awesome songs, than a longer one of crap.  Sixteen songs is on the other side of the spectrum.  Too many songs and I've quit paying attention by the end.  Surely not all sixteen of these are quality?

In these instances both are exceptions to the rule.  Zeppelin IV is eight songs and there is nothing you regret hearing.  They could have put more, but the CD is enough.  Red goes on for sixteen, but there is nothing you want taken out of the list.

The Winner: A tie.

2) Catchy-ness of songs:  

There is no denying that the Zeppelin songs have staying power.  Of the eight songs, I already knew five of them by heart and I was at least familiar with one of the others (Battle of Evermore).  Thus only two of them were relatively unfamiliar to me (Four Sticks, When the Levee Breaks).

I don't think I'd ever heard a single song off of Red before.[9]  Of course I don't typically listen to any radio station that would be playing Taylor Swift songs, so it's possible they are all played non-stop somewhere else on the dial. [10]  There were several of the songs that I caught myself singing later (22, Stay Stay Stay, and Red at the minimum.)  But that was immediately after listening to the disc and I haven't done it again since.

The Winner: Zeppelin

3) Replayability:

Granted this is a lot like the previous topic, but it is not the same.  Uncatchy songs would lead to low replayability, but catchy songs that don't go together, go on too long, or are too much the of the same [11] make CD's non-replayable as well.

Zeppelin IV has decent replayability.  Again since five of the eight songs are legitimate hits, even if you don't particularly like the other three, you need only wait a few minutes and you're back to a hit.  However, the songs do all have a very similar feel to them.  The same guitar sound that pretty much defines Zeppelin dominates all of the songs and let's face it Robert Plant pretty much sounds the same every time as well. [12]

Red also has decent replayability.  The CD is sixteen songs, but there is quite a range of styles and sounds. For instance, some of the CD sounds downright country.  Others are clearly rock, pop or a kind of bluesy romantic.  Swift also sings in a variety of styles.  The result is a lot of variety that keeps the CD fresh sounding.

The Winner: Swift [13]

4) Topics of songs

As previously stated my exposure to Taylor Swift is limited to these sixteen songs and a handful of others.  So, perhaps this next statement isn't true, but it sure seems it to me.

Here is a story line:

A) Girl desires boy [14]
B) Girl and boy start seeing each other
C) It gets serious
D) Everything is wonderful
E) Conflict and tension arrises
F) Things aren't going so good
G)They either resolve things (go back to "D") or things fall apart (go on to "H")
H) They break up
I) Girl thinks back on relationship
J) Go back to "A" [15]

Every single Taylor Swift song follows this story line.  EVERY SINGLE ONE.  Granted some of them do not go through the entire story and may only focus on one, two or three parts of it.  But they are all there.  I know this is true for her Red album because I realized this halfway through the first listening and so on the second listening I identified where in the story line each song was.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that, [16] and I'm sure there are people who really, really, really like focusing on that topic, but for me it gets kind of worn out.

Zeppelin IV does not have this problem.  Sure there are some songs here about girls.  There is also a song that just about walking around the city and stuff happens (Misty Mountain Hop), a song about rock and roll  and girls (Rock and Roll), a song about trying to buy your way into the afterlife (Stairway to Heaven) and a song about the battle between good and evil [17] (Battle of Evermore).  If I have a complaint about the CD it's that there are times when the songs seem to lose their continuity.  Honestly there are times when I think Plant no longer knows what he's talking about and is just filling space with lines that rhyme.

The Winner: Zeppelin IV by a long shot.

5) Cuteness of Artist

Have you looked at recent pictures of Plant?  Even at their best the guys from Zeppelin are kind of shaggy, and unkempt.  And I don't know why, but I suspect that they didn't necessarily smell so good either.

Taylor Swift is gorgeous.  There are sometimes where she has this slight oddness and angularity to her look that I can't quite put my finger on, but whatever.  She's a hottie.

The Winner: Taylor Swift by a really really long shot.

Doing a quick tally the verdict is 2.5 for Zeppelin IV and 2.5 for Taylor Swift's Red.  Thus a tie and a need for a tie breaker category.

Here it is:

Tie Breaker: If I was out of space on my iPhone which would I delete first to make space?

Taylor Swift's good looks notwithstanding, Red would get deleted without a second thought.

The Final Winner: Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV: A-
Taylor Swifts- Red: A-

[1] - Except I've already lied to you as it is now a CD Warehouse and hasn't been Disc-Go-Round in years. I evidently have issues with change.
[2] - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars to be specific.  Perhaps I have a problem with letting go of the past instead.
[3] - This was one of those rare moments when I'm child free and suddenly find that I am free to browse and not focused on just keeping the Bean from destroying the universe.
[4] - I know.  I know.  Please don't tell anyone.  I've gotten past it now.
[5] - Mostly stuff on the radio (NPR ftw), but also on other media types
[6] - Unless the Encomium tribute album counts and it shouldn't.
[7] - But only because it was the topic of one of the coincidental Taylor Swift occurrences that had occurred in the previous couple days.
[8] - Counting Crows don't think I didn't note that your newest 11 track offering includes two demo versions of two of the songs, so really only has nine songs.  You aren't fooling anyone.
[9] - It's possible I heard 22 before, but I don't think I actually had.  More likely is that I heard someone else singing snippets of it.
[10] - But I doubt that.
[11] - Any Boston CD for example.
[12] - Changing volume level or speed doesn't count.
[13] - But just barely.
[14] - Typically one if not both of them are of the "bad girl" or "bad boy" variety
[15] - Usually with a new boy
[16] - Especially if you are a teenage high school or college girl who's life is surrounded by that kind of drama.
[17] - And maybe a little Tolkein