Saturday, May 18, 2019

Word Play – All Hail The King


In the shadow of the US Bank Stadium, writers, readers and book peddlers gather in the make shift Minneapolis tent village, crowding the closed streets, haggling over words, sentences and paragraphs, and whispering in hushed tones, “Soon the master will be here.”
“Imagine” by John Lennon is being piped out over the crowd when I show up. And I wonder if these are the same people who sold out First Avenue last night to hear the Rock Bottom Remainders. I suspect they are. Why should they be any different from me? Here to witness the same phenomenon, the head horror writer in charge, Lovecraft’s current channeler on earth—Stephen King.
He doesn’t go on until 10 AM, so I pick out a spot fairly close to the stage, but far enough back I’m out of the crowd—at least for now. The morning is relatively pleasant. It’s sunny, there’s a spring breeze, classic rock plays along with a steady bongo drumbeat somewhere that has me thinking “Renaissance Festival for Writers.” Commercial interests are represented, mostly by Target reps in red shirts that hand out sunscreen and sunglasses, all with the Target logo.
I scan the crowd for writers I know—and come up empty. But there are enough people here they could easily be hidden in the growing mass of people. “I Feel Like Making Love” comes on, and the Ren Fest feeling now gives way to more of a “carnival for writers” vibe. I also think that in a King novel (Cell, for instance) this would be the moment right before it all goes bad, before people start going mad and biting each other. I take a step further back from the growing crowd, eye-up the exits.
A woman in the crowd asks me how Instagram works on her phone (I’m no help). Another woman, about four feet tall and at least eighty years old, leans close to me, enjoying the shade I provide. When I take a step away, she moves closer again. My toes are run over by a stroller filled with two sleeping infants and their mom yells “toes!” in surprise, and jokes with me that “You probably didn’t need those anyway.” No harm done, I concur. There are clearly a variety of people here, and most of them, it seems, are here just like me, readers or writers, waiting to see King.
“Dangerous Type” by the Cars plays now. Somewhere past the wall of people, King must make a brief appearance as he heads towards stage. A flurry of hands and cheers all go up at once, and stop just as suddenly as he ducks out of site. I can’t help but wonder if this is where fame gets you. People yelling and waving at just a slight glimpse. There are so many of us now in this crowd, my mind jumps to a scene in Jesus Christ Superstar: Jesus and the Lepers. “There are so many of you!” I hope King gets something worthwhile from this—besides big bags of writer superstar money, that is. I hope it’s worth it.
When King is finally introduced and makes it on stage I mostly see him on the big projection screen they have set up. He has a casual manner, and a wide, friendly smile. He shows his age a little: gray hair, a bit bent of posture, very soft-spoken.
Benjamin Percy, local author (of some fine books like Thrill Me and Red Moon) interviews King, with full disclosure, that they will mostly talk about one of King’s newer books, The Outsider (I’ve read it, not bad—the first two-thirds were great, the ending felt familiar to me, reminiscent of It).
King is so much fun to listen to, and between him and Percy they had some great things to say about reading and writing and horror. Here are a few gems (tried to capture as best I could, please consider most of what follows “paraphrased”):
·      King complimented the crowd for being “People who read shit.” (Meaning: great that they are readers)
·      “If you can read and write you can own the f•cking world.” - Stephen King
·      He spoke of how many people have written him to say our current president reminds them of Greg Stillson, the president in his book The Dead Zone (The first thing I thought of when Trump was elected.)
·      A few times he talked about how his books end, in this manner: “I’ll find out the ending in the course of writing the book.”
·      He’s a Game of Thrones fan.
·      Random thought/observation: The closed captioning at this event was bordering on hilarious. I’m sure it’s tough—I couldn’t keep up if I were typing, but here are a few captions I noticed that made me smile:
o   Supernatural Beans (beings)
o   Needful Chinks (things)
o   Swagger (Jimmy Swaggart)
o   Kid tanning on the window (tapping)
·      Some projects King has in the works
o   A sequel (perhaps) to Salems’ Lot
o   The Outsider will be a Netflix series
o   If It Bleeds (new novel coming out soon—it sounds good!)
·      A joke by King:  “So far so good: What the guy who jumped off the roof said as he was passing the 40th floor.”
·      What does King write about? He says he writes to the point that monsters are real—and sometimes they win. He likes to write about people falling apart. He also talked about how all people have secrets, and used the example of Ted Bundy, who did terrible things yet to most people around him, they only saw a handsome, charming guy. He also uses his writing to pass on his fears and traumas to others (why pay a psychiatrist when people pay him to read his fears).
·      King also spoke about how in these (current, terrible, scary) times people are frightened, and that writers have a responsibility to write about what frightens them.
o   His upcoming book If It Bleeds may express some fears about Alzheimer’s and dementia. (A writer’s tool is his mind…)
·      Some things that King spoke of fondly:
o   Wait Until Dark (an old movie with Audrey Hepburn)
o   The Shrinking Man (Incredible Shrinking Man)
·      On fame: “Writers should be like Clark Kent.”
·      “Minnesota is a great place. You’re lucky to live here.” – Stephen King
·      “It’s a strange life.” – Stephen King
·      How good writing should be: “A hem stitched so fine…” (meaning so well written people can suspend belief)
·      Side note by King and Percy: the director, John Carpenter, apparently keeps a “File of Scares’—creepy images—that he uses to work from.
As King spoke the crowd grew. Some of the most interesting people in the audience, to me, were the ones who walked on by, who never looked at King up on stage, or even paused. One of the most popular writers on the planet is up on stage—and you can’t stop to listen in for a minute? I just don’t understand.
This is my third time being in a King audience—and I love to listen to him expound about writing. But why shouldn’t I, as someone who has read 40+ Stephen King books? I’m plenty biased.


One other moment I got to experience, thanks to The Loft’s Word Play event (and my thoughtful wife who bought us tickets for our anniversary), was to hear King and the Rockbottom Remainders play a blend of classic rock songs, most that I recognized as cover tunes from my father’s old record collection. Hearing this group of writers sing “Paper Back Writer” was wonderful, and as another writer friend of mine said, “Hearing King sing Stand By Me was a dream come true I never knew I had.”
Ditto.

~Mark
@manOwords

2018 - In Remembrance


On this blog, you won’t find any entries to mark 2018’s passage. Some say this year didn’t happen—but I am here to tell you, it did.

For me, 2018 was a year of changes. For one, I was on a break between full-time jobs. Late 2017 my IT Manager job of many years ended abruptly in a financial lay off that took about 40% of staff with it. The good news is this layoff came with six months of severance pay so I could take my time to figure out what to do next.

The first half of 2018, for me, was kind of a test run on other jobs, and maybe also a test run on what it will be like (for me) to be retired. I hope I make it to see that day, because I really enjoyed the taste of it I had in 2018. During that time I got to explore new opportunities, but also spend my time doing only exactly what I wanted. It was liberating.

A few things I can vouch for, that happened (in my life) in 2018:
  • Being an Intro to Creative Writing teacher—which I loved. I am so appreciative of the whole experience: Hamline University, my students, and my fellow teachers—and the whole chance to be emerged in thinking about/teaching/talking writing.
  • Job hunting: Writing resumes, going on interviews, taking career assessments, attending job fairs and networking lunches and coffees.
  • Getting a new job as a tech geek at UMN
  • Living life. 2018 had graduation parties, a funeral, a wedding, a car crash, birthday celebrations, and a retirement. I also played billiards, climbed a rock wall, and attended a couple rock concerts.
  • Writing: much of my writing in 2018 revolved around starting my thesis. As my thesis project I chose, Sunlight, my book project that I’ve written about in this blog a few times. Through thesis I added to, revised and honed the first third of this book—and got lots of feedback on it from my professors, but also members of the Scribblerati. And our writing group met to talk writing and give each other feedback 4 times (that I can recall in 2018).
But in 2018 we didn’t blog. No, no, no. Maybe 2019 will be different? Maybe not?

What was 2018 for the other Scribblerati? For you? Anything you’d like to remember—or forget about it?

I look forward to your comments on a year I know happened, when blogging didn’t.

Mark
@manOwords

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Girl Has No Head

My local coffee shop has a blackboard they dedicate, most of the time, to some question like, “If you could be any animal, what would you be?” and “What’s the best movie of all time?” and “Who is your favorite member of Imagine Dragons?” Patrons then scribble their answers on the board as they wait around for their coffee order.

This week, when I stopped by to get my local caffeine infusion, on the blackboard they had instead drawn an elaborate illustration of the process it takes the pea berry to get from somewhere in Brazil, to be turned into coffee and made into the delicious brew that ends up in my paper coffee cup. For the most part the drawing was a masterpiece of chalk, but I couldn't help but notice.... in the middle of the illustration, was this figure:


It’s the only depiction of a person in the whole lengthy coffee-making process drawing. This figure is supposed to be sorting coffee… I think… but I could not help but notice: This girl has no head.

This raises a lot of questions.

What exactly is going on in this little scene?

  • Is it really a girl?
  • Is her head missing?
  • If so, is the lack of head intentional? A forgotten detail in this chalk masterpiece? A result of some terrible accident?
  • What does the lack of head say about the artist? About this coffee shop? The coffee industry?
This drawing of a headless coffee sorter made me think of writing, and how an author sometimes fails to describe a scene completely, or accidentally leaves out details, that leave the reader wondering, and confused.

Amongst our writing group, we have an ongoing joke, that if you don’t describe what a person is wearing in a scene from the waist down, they are clearly not wearing any pants (aka, “Porky-pigging it”)—and should be pictured that way in scene. Maybe this is the case with the headless figure in the drawing… maybe the fact all people have heads is implied and understood, but then again—maybe sometimes it’s worth drawing in the details, being complete and concrete in your descriptions.

But help me out here, I’m still wondering about the person in the picture.
What’s his/her deal?
And why is their head missing?

-Mark
@manOwords


PS> Bonus questions:

  •  If you could be any animal, what would you be?
  •  What’s the best movie of all time?
  •  Who is your favorite member of Imagine Dragons?


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Helicopter Must Crash

I’m reading a book by Benjamin Percy, called Thrill Me (Essays on Fiction) and so far it’s, well, thrilling me (thanks for the recommendation Nicola). Although I own several of his books like Red Moon and The Dead Lands in my literally eight-foot tall reading stack (the place where good books go to be buried until an undisclosed future time when I’ll actually read them), I haven’t read much of his work (he also writes comics, too). But, what I’ve read so far in Thrill Me is really connecting with me on a personal level. Part of this connection is that I like to read and write horror—and many specific examples in Percy’s book are about writing by Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Cormack McCarthy—all favorites of mine.
But, a particular section of his book made me light up, and it’s all about this quote: “If a story does not contain an exploding helicopter, an editor will not publish it, no matter how pretty its sentences and orgasmic its epiphany may be.” He also goes on to say “…helicopter is an inclusive term that may refer but is not limited to giant sharks, robots with laser eyes, pirates, poltergeists, were-kittens….” [Gratuitous helicopter explosion]
Of course, my book Sunlight (still in second revision, headed to a third) contains, you guessed it, an exploding helicopter, with lots of fire, shrieking monsters, and gunfire. Conclusion: There is commercial hope for my writing yet. I’m also thinking about a were-kitten trilogy, FYI.
In one of my recent grad school writing classes I was assigned the book After Dark by Haruki Murakami. This book takes place on one evening, between midnight and seven a.m., and has a sometimes surreal and dreamlike quality. It mostly focuses on a girl main character (Mari) who hangs out at a Denny’s and gets involved with some other characters whose world is the night: prostitutes, Chinese gangsters, young rock musicians, etc. There are a lot of things I liked about this book: style of prose, commentary and deep thoughts about the human condition (so intellectually stimulating), likeable characters (my favorite was a female ex-wrestler), and at times some very cool, surreal moments.


What it didn’t have, for my personal sensibilities as a reader and writer, was a driving plot or explicit action. This book had a lot of great things to say, the writing was superb, but specifically there was a plot that I expected (based on the commercial books I read, the movies I watch) that never unfolded. In the story there is a phone that belongs to a man who beats up a Chinese prostitute… and other characters in the book end up with this phone… and there is plenty of danger implied. Having the phone could be construed (by the Chinese gangsters who manage the beaten prostitute) as a direct connection to the beating—so in my mind I was expecting a danger filled plot, where mistaken identity puts the main character(s) in danger, running for their lives. But that never happened. In other words, there was no helicopter, and it certainly did not explode.
I guess what I’m really exploring here is the difference between commercial and literary fiction. Although I read some literary fiction, and appreciate, admire and strive for high quality prose writing, my true heart as a reader and writer defaults to plot-driven (commercial/genre) fiction. I want something to happen, or a bunch of somethings, something to keep the pages turning for the reader, wondering what happens next.
One of the inspirations for my book Sunlight was Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (and it makes me happy when some of my “test” readers so far have pointed out some similarities to McCarthy's book.) In particular, after reading The Road—a book I could not put down for how well it was structured, how beautifully it was written, how suspenseful—I asked “but where were the monsters?” And thus started my desire to write a similar story, but with monsters brought prominently forward, where they deserve to be.
For you as a reader, if you had to choose a book with either: strong, wonderful writing where not much happens--or an exciting, page flipping plot—which would it be? And do the two have to be exclusive?
For you writers out there, I ask, does your story have a helicopter crash? A fifty-story tall monster stomping on military tanks? A kick-ass unicorn battling cave trolls? Maybe it should.

Mark
@manowords

For your gratification, here are more helicopter explosions: Get to the Choppa!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Character Assassination

Post originally published on Finding the Yummy.

What can ruin a good story for you?
For me, if I don't care about the characters, I won't care about the story. I felt that way while watching the film Public Enemies - John Dillinger was a horrible person, and I couldn't invest any energy in caring whether he was caught or betrayed or killed. His charisma wasn't enough to make me care, the cat-and-mouse game he was playing with the Feds wasn't enough to make me care, his Johnny Depp-ness wasn't enough to make me care. I was completely detached from the film, just waiting for it to end. (And trying to spot my friends Bill and Shannon Butler, who were swing dancing extras in the movie - the only thing that made watching it worthwhile.)
Femme-Nikita_2
Likewise, I have a friend who hated La Femme Nikita, because the title character murders a cop in cold blood at the beginning of the film, and he couldn't forgive her for that. Never mind that the story was about transformation and redemption - and about how society says it's okay to be a monster, as long as you're a monster on the right side of the law.  (Yeah, I loved it. But I get why he didn't. )
We all have sins we consider unforgivable.
I just finished reading Menfreya in the Morning, by Victoria Holt. It was written in the 1960s - a Daphnie du Maurier-style Gothic romance, set in the early 20th century.
I was liking it a lot, the style is spot on: sweeping rocky coasts, a glorious old manor gone to seed, horseback riding accidents, political scandals, rumors of a ghost in the east wing - the whole Gothicky works. The main character, Harriet, is likable: a lonely, odd, smart girl with a despised limp, who ends up capturing the heart of Bevil, the man she's been in love with since she was 10 and he was 20. He's a gorgeous Lothario, and the most eligible bachelor in all of Cornwall. Even after they get married about half way through the book, she can't really believe that he wants her - he's had a lot of affairs in the past and still flirts with women more beautiful than Harriet.
Menfreya
The marriage happens early on, because the rest of the the story is tres Rebecca: what with the dark suspicions about her husband's infidelity, the ghost in the east wing, the sinister governess and all. So, although they have an ideal honeymoon, when they get back, those little dreads begin to take hold. One night they have a major disagreement over Harriet's best friend, who is also Bevil's sister. After the argument, Harriet is furious with him, and announces that she's going to sleep in the other bedchamber. He says no, he wants her there with him. She refuses.
Aaaaannnnnd he rapes her. It isn't spelled out as such, but it's pretty clear what happens... her arms and back are covered in bruises the next day, and she describes it as "the most soul-shattering experience of her life."
Okay, I thought. Do I put the book down now? But Holt doesn't pull her punches. She takes care to express the rage, humiliation and fear Harriet feels, and especially the loss of her autonomy, the realization that whatever she wants, he's stronger, he's her husband, and she has no way of fighting back.
Meanwhile, there's a kind young man lurking vaguely in the background, and I started wondering whether Harriet was going to ultimately end up with him. Would her husband die? Then I thought, wow. This is a totally different book than I thought it was going to be.
EXCEPT IT'S NOT. Harriet makes excuses for her husband, and eventually learns that she was wrong about the sister, and he was right, and all her suspicions about Bevil's infidelities were unfounded, and he really just loves only her and she loves only him and those two crazy kids work it out, by gum.
Fuck you, 1966.
What story was ruined for you by a character's actions?

-Q



Friday, January 27, 2017

Next stop, Riverdale High

Hey all! Agent Q here. Check out my latest post over at Finding the Yummy, where I talk about the CW's new show, Riverdale, and the dos and don'ts in adapting a beloved comic.

ARCHIE AND THE GANG GET CWED




Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Lovely Way to Start 2017!

Firefly By Bruce Marlin
Own work http://www.cirrusimage.com/beetle_firefly_Photuris_lucicrescens.htm,
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1536654
Lisa's first publication has hit the interwebs! Scrapie's Trap, one of the stories in her Insect Cycle, has been published in the on-line journal Kaleidotrope. And, appropriately, the art for the edition is a tech-spider.

The world in the story has a train that is part animal, part vegetable and looks like a giant caterpillar. The train only has a minor role in this story; it is the lightning bug that has the major role. The story opens thus:
Lampyridae: Firefly. Female Photuris fireflies will mimic the mating flashes of other subfamilies of firefly, such as Photinus, in order to draw their males as prey. The mating behavior of the male Photuris includes their mimicking the flashes of the males of the Photinus subfamily, the prey that the female Photuris attempts to capture with her own mimicry. In this way predator and “prey” may find in each other a mate.
Fireflies are wicked cool. In the story you will also meet two goats, Tinus and Turis, and a girl named Scrapie.

Here's the Table of Contents: 
Fiction
"The Song of the Whistling Crab" by Michael McGlade
"One Thousand Paper Cranes" by Julie C. Day
"The Big Reveal" by David Stevens
"Scrapie’s Trap" by Lisa Bergin (That's me!)
"The Last Seven Eternities of Dr. Julian Slade, PhD" by Joshua Kamin
Poetry
"Ship of Jinn" by Holly Lyn Walrath
"From the Dictionary of Nonexistent Words, A Sampler" by Kathrin Köhler 
"The Last Word" by Gwynne Garfinkle

Artwork
Cesar Valtierra 

I've read the edition - if you like a bit of horror and humor and speculation and the unknown, you will like these stories and poems. Also, there are horrific/humorous horoscopes!

And even better: in the same issue, my dear friend Kathrin has an amazing poem for word-lovers and dictionary-lovers. Please go read it! 

For me the end of 2016 had a bitter taste of loss and estrangement, and I'd spent the last days of December with a whiff of dread for the coming year. And then this issue came out with me and Kat bound up in cyberspace together. I needed that reminder from the universe.

So: here's to 2017. Here's to hope. Here's to writers (and plumbers and mail carriers and philosophers and geeks and teachers and parents and friends and sweethearts and kids and...) doing our work well, with generosity and curiosity for what lies beyond. Here's to readers and listeners. Here's to you and here's to me and here's to exploring what lies in the in-between.