All posts by dk

Thoughts on The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

There have only been three books that have made me completely depressed to the point of tears.  The first case, I read Where the Red Fern Grows in fourth grade and I will admit I was bawling at the end.  Second, when I read Dobby’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  But in both cases I was able to get over the emotion quickly.  The first chapter of The Lovely Bones set a horrible taste in my mouth.  It has kept me angry not only at the events but I honestly feel like some details do not need to be written regardless of free speech. It crossed a line on what kind of content and images I want in my mind.   But that’s my opinion.

The rest of the concept of the novel was … interesting.  As a deeply religious person, I have hope for what heaven will be like for everyone.  And based on my personal beliefs of heaven, I’ve never imagined grief on behalf of someone innocent like Susie.  I can see someone like Mr. Harvey experiencing grief when he dies because, as a Christian, I believe and hope that murderers get their eternal judgment when they die.  The concept that Susie would be filled with grief, not just for her unsolved murder, but because of missed opportunities is not something I had really thought about so that part was interesting to me.

However, aside from the horrible concept of hurting a child, I had other problems with the novel.  As one of my classmates said, using Susie as the narrator began to feel like a gimmick.  And I am leaning in agreement there.  If not a gimmick, then at least a poorly assessed tool for narrating the story.  It some ways Susie’s narration feels like an excuse for the writer to be able to bounce from person to person.  But just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work as a method of telling the story.  Overall, there was a depressing realism to the method.  Bad stuff happens, especially to kids, and the culprit can go unpunished and even though Susie is following people around hoping for resolution, unfortunately it doesn’t really happen.  At least not the way she wanted it.  (That’s why I hope for eternal judgment).

So overall it was an interesting story.  But content wise, I’m not going to recommend this to anyone.  I feel that the method of her death was just for shock factor and I feel, personally, it crossed a line.  If this wasn’t required reading, I never would have read it.

Thoughts on The Others – still creepy years later

I saw this movie when it first came out and had to see it multiple times over to catch all the little subtle hints throughout it that revealed to you what was really happening. Now, a decade later, it was so fun to watch it again and relive all the creep factors of the film. We’re talking in class about how–if possible– to translate the use of lighting, camera angles, and other film techniques into the written word. Many of these techniques I don’t think can be translated because books don’t have a musical score for example. While I’m still lost on how to translate those aspects of film into a book, there’s something else that I’m reminded about with fiction.
Last January, at the opening night for residency, Dr. Wendland introduced the topic for the week. We talked about that one line you’d want your reader to have like “trust me, this will be good.” That’s how I feel about The Others. It’s definitely one that is “Trust Me” with a malicious and devious grin when that’s really a lie because you spend the whole time thinking you’re getting the truth and then learn the twist at the end. Or at least that’s what happened to me the first time I saw the movie.
Which brings me to a question about whether we can do this in books. I feel like a twist is expected in film. But can we really get away with lying throughout the whole novel and then “Surprise! Not what you thought!” I kind of think that you can’t do that in a novel. There’s something different between video and books that draws a line on what is allowed. Almost like an unspoken rule that a reader is putting their life in your hands so you’d better not lie to them. But it’s expected in film. Is it because a book takes longer to get through than a film so the audience has invested more to the book than the film so you’d better not jerk them around too much? I haven’t read every book so maybe there are books out there that have a large twist like The Others. If I may, that’s what I’d like in the responses to this post. Do you think you can twist the story as much in a book as you can in a movie? What are examples of books that tell you one tale until the very end and then play the “gotcha” card?

Thoughts on The Shining by Stephen King

My very first encounter (that I can remember) with this is actually from the movie Twister. The film version of The Shining is playing on the drive in movie theater when the tornados come through. I remember something about a boy on a tricycle in the hotel and then later when the tornado shreds the screen you see Jack Nicholson’s face pushing through the splintered door. I was told that it was a scary movie and later learned it was The Shining. After that, I didn’t have any other exposure to the story except for those two clips whenever I watch Twister again or when playing a movie game like Scene It.
Fast forward to January 2012, I’m in the Marriott Hotel in Greensburg, PA during my first residency in the SHU Writing Popular Fiction program and as I’m getting ready for bed I see a new scene from the movie. The elevator doors opening and a tidal wave of blood spilling out. June 2012, my second residency, and it is on again on cable and I see the exact same part. January 2013, my third residency, and I actually catch the beginning few minutes on my way down to the lobby for late night activities with my fellow students. And then, lo and behold, it is assigned for the horror reading in the genres course. And the three scenes I’d seen before were nothing compared to the experience of reading the novel for the first time. Now I will try to be vague in referencing points because I don’t want to spoil anything. That’s my way of saying thanks to everyone that had read and/or seen the movie and let me go 30 years without spoiling the fright for me.
As the second only Stephen King novel I’ve read in my life, I say what I said last semester. I can see why he has such a following and is revered by many as a superior writer. The man can weave a tale and scare you. And it was the little things that all add up for me, twisting me up until it really gets crazy.
For example:
I think that it doesn’t make a difference if your parents were always happy or if they struggled, the first time you learn of the concept of divorce, that works on your little mind and creates fears no child has to deal with. We’ve all been disciplined by parents so I think on some level we understand the fear of a parent losing their temper. I just turned 30 and I have never been stung by a bee, hornet, or wasp. In fact, I don’t even know the difference between a yellow jacket, hornet, or wasp without looking it up. But the fact that I’ve never been stung, I live by a lake in a desert state, and have wasps or whatever buzzing around my fence and gutters each summer, scares me like nothing else. For all I know I’m allergic! I’ve been in places where I felt figuratively and literally abandoned and alone. I’ve been snowed in for days where we couldn’t get any where if we needed help. And I’ve had nightmares that have woken me up yelling. Yep, had one just last year. Scared my wife. That is what struck me so strongly with this novel. It hit so many cords that no matter what our upbringing, we can all relate to something in there. By the way, I love that Danny is so determined to read so he can understand what Tony is showing him. I think I would have tried harder as well at his age if I was in the same situation.
My first semester in this program, I read Stephen King’s non-fiction book On Writing. It is so clear that he believes what he says and that he just wasn’t trying to come up with something to give the people that pester him for the secret to his success. Now, I’m not saying that there weren’t relatable aspects of the other stories we’ve read for this class. But this novel hit me harder because there were more things that I could relate to. And for me, that is a huge key to the success of the story or not. If I can’t relate to it, I can’t internalize it, I can’t put myself in their position, and then I don’t care about what happens to the characters. And that’s a huge problem in my own story. I’m very talented at make you not care about what happens to my characters. I can come with all kinds of events and action for a novel but in the end, if you don’t care about what happens to the characters other than that they stop so the novel ends, then I’ve failed as a writer and story teller. It’s clear to me, that Stephen King either experienced for himself, or from someone close to him, an abusive/alcoholic father, nightmares, cabin fever, etc, etc ,etc because of how well he was able to get me to believe it was happening to me. I’ve even started to check myself when I start staring off into space trying to concentrate and think through a new scene for my novel.

Well done, sir. I’m not sure I’ll sleep well tonight.

Thoughts on Ghost Story by Peter Straub

I am really disappointed with this book. I came into it all excited because of the praise given by Stephen King on the front cover. I actually read my first King novel last semester. It was amazing! So when I saw him praise this novel on the cover I was expecting a lot. And then I read the “preface” and thought, “oooooh, creepy and great potential.” Then I fell asleep for most of the first half of the novel. I’m really struggling on how to come up with something good that I’m taking from the novel. Stephen King says that the terror just mounts and mounts. The only reason it really did that with me is because I was expecting that because King set that up for me. Okay, that’s not entirely fair. The preface set it up, then I felt like nothing was really going on until the end of the Fenny Bates story. But I felt like I had to wait until the middle of the novel beforewe finally get to something. The weird deaths of the sheep, Jon’s suicide, and Lewis’ near death for example. But then it peters out a bit for me. If I hadn’t seen King’s comment on the cover I probably wouldn’t have been expect quite as much.

However, it does have a few strengths that resonate with me as a writer rather than just a reader. I did read the first 200+ pages very quickly. Even though it still bored me. And that does say something. While in retrospect I don’t recall a whole lot of action in that first 200+ pages, it does say something to Straub’s ability and voice as a writer that I went through almost the first half of the book before really paying attention to the page number. There wasn’t enough going on for me in the first half of the novel to really recount when my wife asked what I was reading and what I thought. But his voice when writing drove me on so that I would find something better.

The other aspect of strength is that this novel resonated as more of a psychological terror than an actual ghost story. The Fenny Bates story clearly sets the tone that the past haunts us. That is something I think we all can relate to after we’ve reached a specific age point in our lives. Everything from small regrets to larger traumatic events we’ve witnessed, carried out, or failed to prevent stays with us. So as a writer, that’s something I like about the story and will be the ultimate lesson I’m taking away from this novel. So far I’ve focused on how authors utilize character feelings and opinions to pull us into a story. Ghost Story takes it further for me by drawing me into the past of a character to help me see how debilitating it can be for the character. For my current project (my thesis) this will be a great tool as a stumbling block for the main character.


Writing excuses

Yep, I’ve got them. I think we all do. To be a professional writer you really need to be in the habit of writing something every day. It doesn’t have to be 1667 words like NaNoWriMo but it does have to be something each and every day. So here’s my excuse for why I don’t do it every day. Every job I’ve had since 2007 has required writing many emails in a day. My new job requires the most writing compared to my past jobs. So by the time I get home at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is blog or write. I feel like I’ve used up my allotment of words for the day before I get home. Which is why I am blogging this in the morning before going of to my job.

If I really want to change my habits then I will need to get up earlier in the morning so I have time to write before getting to work. Then, when I’m tired at the end of the day I can truly relax and read or watch a show and unwind.
Now, do I have enough motivation and determination to carry the theory into action?

Favorite shows

So in my quest to blog more I’m going to follow some advice from my blogging friends and writers. I have forty minutes to blog until the start of the next episode of Castle. Awesome show, right? Of course it is. I’ve seen every episode and my wife finally sat down to watch it with me towards the end of the third season. I know! An intense place to start. So whenever there is a week when there isn’t a new episode of Castle, we watch an old episode to get her caught up.

Speaking of shows, we are very excited for the return of Psych. It has been far too long of a wait for that show. We’ve both have been fans since the very first episode. We’ve found that we make the few shows we watch into mini dates after the kids go to bed and I’ve worked on my novel. (Now I’m trying to get her hooked on Doctor Who which I’m watching right now…) Oh, forget blogging. He’s a Time Lord!

Blogging and Branding

I’ve made a number of friends through the WPF program with Seton Hill.  A good number of those are very consistent with blogging about their writing and experiences.  I’m not very good at that…. clearly.  The fact is that I have never been good at even keeping a journal.  For the most part I’ve limited my blog posts to thoughts about what we’ve read in the Readings in the Genre courses.

During the months between residency we take a Reading in the Genre course and work on our thesis.  We also have two times when we all get onto the school servers for a program wide chat on various subjects.  In this last chat session I was in the room for branding.  It gave me a lot to think about and I still feel completely lost as to what I’d have my “brand” and tag line.  One of my author friends write Romance thrillers and has a book coming out soon.  Her tag line is “Even heroes need a happy ever after.”  And my mentor has a tag line in his email signature.  The other thing we talked about in the chat was about your involvement with not writing issues such as current events.  I’m still very lost with what I’d do in these areas.  I know there are certain subjects I would avoid blogging or tweeting about.

So that’s a lot of what’s been going through my mind lately from school.  And this is an attempt to blog outside of my thoughts on our RIG readings.  (Though one is coming in the next few days).   The only progress on branding that I’ve made is that I would need a few since I’m publishing under pen names.  I can’t come up with anything or tag lines for most of them other than my horror persona but I’m not sure I should use it or even type it here for fear of giving the wrong impression…. wait, no one reads this unless it’s a post for the RIG class…..


Hell House by Richard Matheson

I’m not one for ghost stories. And while the head hopping within a single paragraph or the numerous uses of “mattress edge” became rather annoying, Matheson did one amazing thing. Just as the characters in the novel began to doubt which series of events was the truth, I began to do the same. Yet, despite the fact that I don’t like ghost stories, I found myself wanting to believe that the truth to the Belasco house was in fact a haunting and not just residual energy in the house. I guess it would validate the pain and death in the 1940s group as well as for these characters.

As I did last semester, I’m going to try to post about what I learned from the craft of this novel and not just respond to the story itself. This might just be the one novel where head hopping numerous times in the novel might actually have been intended by the author. We, the audience, in a sense became Belasco himself. Flitting from mind to mind to work on what beliefs they held and manipulating the truth. Thus weaving the tale to the final page.  I’m not normally a ghost story reader but this one worked well for me on a few levels.  This week in our course discussion we’re talking about whether or not you believe in ghosts.  The answers are intriguing to me because they are matching what I’ve noticed with the characters in the novel.  Some believe in ghosts while other believe in residual energy.  So there’s a realistic aspect when creating the characters.  Not everyone will react to such phenomena the same as others.  That resonated with me.  I could get deeper into this story and the struggles of the characters because of that.  So much so that the aspects I didn’t like didn’t seem as important anymore.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

I started reading the stories for the semester before the syllabus went up so the first two books I read out of order. I won’t review Hell House yet, but having read that first and then Haunting of Hill House, I found the latter to be quite tame. Then, at a bookstore, I saw that it was listed as one of the best literary ghost stories. That piqued my interest. I’m in the “Writing Popular Fiction” program at Seton Hill. We talk often of what makes something literary rather than popular. I personally have never been satisfied with the distinction. But that’s neither here nor there.

Haunting of Hill House takes longer to get into the actual ghost story. Sure, the house is creepy and designed weird but you are nearly halfway through novel by the time anything really manifests itself. And having come into the novel right after finishing Hell House, I was expecting a lot. Or that it was all Mrs. Dudley in the end pranking everyone so they’d leave the house alone. So I’ve tried to think of what I can that stuck out in my mind from this novel.

The word haunt is an interesting one. In terms of ghosts the common definition is “Manifest itself at a place regularly.” Well, by that definition, who exactly was doing the haunting? This isn’t a story about people going into a house to figure out what is causing the haunting. They’re just there to observe. So there’s no resolution in that regard. Instead, the novel ends with a traumatic event that sends everyone away. However, a case could be made that by the definition of a haunting, it is actually the characters of the novel that are doing the haunting of the house because they “frequent a place regularly.” But I know that’s not what was meant for the novel.

One thing the author did rather well is spinning the suspense. I kept expecting more to happen. But we never “see” anything. Just “Hear” the pounding and laughter. Yet, you are able to feel the tension within the characters (when you get over the old fashioned way the women act but it was written for that time period). All in all, a rather interesting start to the semester.