All posts by dk

African cockadoodie oogy dirtie birdie: A response to Misery by Stephen King

Ummmmm…. yeah.  This was an interesting one.  Misery is the first Stephen King book (aside from On Writing) that I’ve ever read.  I like the style and the story idea.  It’s creepy and there were many times when Paul is struggling to write that I wondered if that was autobiographical for Mr. King.  He certainly captures my plight as a fledgling writer.

It took getting about 2/3rds through the novel before I realized why this one bothered me more than Psycho, Church of Dead Girls, Red Dragon, and Silence of the Lambs combined.  And then it dawned on me.  Misery is written from the point of view of the victim!  I internalized it more and it freaked me out more.  I honestly can’t say that I would have tried to last as long as Paul did.  That is partly what I feel is unbelievable about Paul.  He’s unconnected from everyone yet he finds a reason to stay alive for so long.  I have a wife and two kids and I’m still close to my extended family.  I’d only keep going because I wouldn’t want them to have to deal with my death.  I wouldn’t be fighting to stay alive for myself or for a “cockadoodie” story.  But, as the novel progresses, I can understand to a point why he’s so attached to finishing the novel.

Photo from  Creepier cover than the one on my Nook book version in my opinion.
Annie Wilkes was pretty creepy to begin with.  Super fan to the extreme.  Yeah, then she dumps soapy water in Paul’s face forcing him to drink it.  Oh, and then shattering his already busted knee!  So I was pretty convinced that she’s psychotic.  And that’s all before Paul sneaks a peak at her book of memories.  I screamed at him to get back to the room every time he “thought” he heard a car coming.  I can’t remember the last time that I actually vocally yelled at a character in a book!  Mr. King, I applaud you and your astounding story-telling abilities.  I didn’t fly through this book like the others because it was more painful to read.  Not that anything was wrong with the story, craft, grammar, etc.  As I said earlier, it was simply because I internalized Paul more than I internalized Will Graham or Dolarhyde for example.  Now I understand why our fearless leader, Scott Johnson, warned us at the beginning of his syllabus for this course.  
I’m struggling to find ways to articulate how this affected me.  It will lend to interesting reads from my classmates as they post their reviews (see horror blog roll on the side).  One thing I can say is that I can see now why Mr. King has such a following.  We’ve read a number of scary stories in the class so far.  Most of those just intrigued me with questions like “How does someone get like that?” Misery didn’t do that as much for me.  If I questioned anything it was “Would I last as long? Don’t think so.” I seriously think if I had been in Paul’s place I would have succumbed to the pain and horror long before I found out about Annie’s past.  Just goes to show what a tale you can make by putting your character through some truly horrific situations.

Responding to Silence of the Lambs

My latest foray into the criminal/psychotic mind is a follow-up to Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.  I haven’t read the novel Silence of the Lambs but I was pleased to see that what I was wanting from the novel Red Dragon was present in Silence of the Lambs.  That being Hannibal Lector.  I am aware of his cultural significance as the modern Dracula.  I was therefore intrigued to literally see him in action.  Wow, I knew Anthony Hopkin is a very talented actor but his portrayal of Hannibal Lector, in my opinion, is stunning. Truly creepy.

There were some questions that I still have about the character.  Much of my focus in this Readings in the Genre course is on motivation in the killer.  I got the impression between Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs that Hannibal is an elitist without any sympathy for others.  But, Anthony Hopkins shows some emotions for Lector that I hadn’t expected.  When he’s questioning Clarice Starling about her past, he turns away from her and as she tells him about a painful experience his expression appears to be one of compassion.  Not lust and hunger for pain as I expected.  I think it’s compassion because when Lector finds out that Starling had made up the deal with the Senator without the Senator knowing he doesn’t get angry with Starling.  Instead, by the end of the movie, he “wants to keep her in the world” and goes after Dr. Chilton.  That boggles my mind.  How can someone be so disturbed as Hannibal Lector but then apparently show compassion to Starling? I guess it is similar to Dolarhyde trying to protect his new love instead of satisfying the Dragon.

The effect on the audience is clear.  Give the villains something that we can relate to and our hatred for them declines.  We may even get to the point of sympathy.  You could actually see something like remorse in Buffalo Bill at one point.  If not remorse then at least discomfort.  Did he only feel it with the senator’s daughter or did it feel it with any of the others?  It’s like what has been discussed by my classmates regarding the Red Dragon.  Who among hasn’t, at least once, struggled with our own body and appearance.  Both Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs have individuals who struggle so much with what they were given at birth that it drives them to drastic measures.  I don’t  think Thomas Harris was trying to say that everyone struggling with their body has the potential to kill.  But, it is food for thought that there are so many commonalities with killers and their past.

Red Dragon response

I really liked this one.  And no, I’m not just saying that to kiss up to my instructor.  I’ve been trying to find something (no matter how small in some) in all the books we’ve read for the Readings in the Genre course that I can apply to my own craft.  Before I get into the “what I learned about the writing craft” from Thomas Harris, I wanted to say that for the most part I really liked this story.  It felt more like a psychological thriller in that the two families destroyed by the dragon have already taken place by the time to book starts.  What follows is a story about Francis and his psychological issues with some great psychological insight into Will Graham.  There was something I didn’t like about the ending which leads me into craft.

I guess I was reading this story as a mystery and not just a story about a killer.  I felt like I “saw it coming” when Francis fakes his death to come after Graham.  Not really because of any clues in the story so much as I saw on my nook that I had too many pages left after Dolarhyde’s house explodes for the story to really be over.  So, to me, it felt like Harris stopped telling us a story and just went for a shock factor finish.  It felt cheap to me and left me feeling cheated.

I’ve said in past posts on other books as well as in discussion in class that I stress a lot with motivation for my killers.  This just proves to me the recent revelation I made for myself as a writer that you can’t aim to please everyone when trying to create a plausible backstory and motivation for a killer.  Personally, while extremely traumatic for Francis, I didn’t feel like there was enough motivation for becoming the Dragon or in stalking his victims.  So, again, I can basically give my villains any backstory I want that will result in their motivation.  All the really matters is staying consistent with that motivation for the character throughout the work.

A review of Church of Dead Girls

I most likely would never have heard of this book if I wasn’t taking this class for Seton Hill.  I learned a lot about the craft of writing and story structure from this and will respond accordingly.

Craft: Point of View
A problem I had with Psycho was that there wasn’t enough detail on the psychosis and mentality of Norman Bates.  I wanted more than what was given.  Then I start reading Church of Dead Girls and I’m drinking out of a fire hose with the information on almost every single person in the town!  It really felt like two extremes.  But, here is what I didn’t like about the narrative in The Church of Dead Girls.

The POV shifts in a way that I feel like we’ve been told not to do as writers.  Sometimes it is first and other times is third.  That can be okay.  But, there are many times where the narrator is telling us a thought or emotion in a character that he wouldn’t have known that unless he was inside their mind.  I know the story is all told from after the events have occurred and after many interviews.  However, it was a little annoying to occasionally have something said that could not have been known by the narrator no matter how many interviews.

Craft: Villain creation

Motivation:  This is always an area of concern when I write.  I need the motivation for my villains to be believable.  I can’t stand the movies and stories out there where the villain just wants to destroy the entire planet.  What’s the point? You’d be dead with everyone else!  But, this novel taught me a lot about motivations.

The Friends group are motivated by fear and revenge.  The IIR are motivated by making a statement when they push over the headstones.  Donald, is motivated by a need to purge and purify.  There are many other examples and depths of character but something finally nailed home to me when I finished the book.  Perspective.

My upbringing leads me to a particular perspective while yours will lead you somewhere else.  At the end of the book we learn that there are members of the community who don’t fault the members of Friends who destroyed Paul’s home.  But, yet, they find fault with Dr. Malloy for shooting his brother.  I see it the other way around.  I support Dr. Malloy because he was willing to look beyond family to stop a killer and I condemn the Friends for destroying Paul’s home and going against the police.  But, then again, how many of us (parents especially) wouldn’t be itching to rip apart every inch of the town to find our own child or to prevent any more children from vanishing.  I’m the first to admit that in the case of protecting children I’d personally give up my own rights to ensure their safety.  I can’t force anyone else to do the same but I could sympathize with the fear and anger of the community in Church of Dead Girls.

So, this is the mind boggling nature of the mind in people and eventually in creating your own characters.  You really need to know their perspective to know how they will react to situations you put them in in the story.  I’ve been so focused on making a motivation/back story to my villain that everyone (audience) will accept.  But, that’s just not possible.  Because everyone has their own perspective.  Two people can have the exact same childhood, abuse, neglect, etc.  But, they may not turn out the same in the end.  One can become a saint and advocate for preventing such treatment of children, while the other can become psychologically damaged by their upbringing and exhibit the same behavior they were a victim of in childhood.  The mind is a curious thing and how we as individuals (or our characters) chose to respond and react is what is so fascinating to me.

So, instead of trying to find that one motivation for my villains that everyone will accept, I need to focus on the character individually and decide how they will react with their own back story that will result in their future.  So many complexities.

Psycho: A Novel -Robert Bloch

I recently read this novel for a class I have at Seton Hill University.  I came into it knowing the basics of the story.  I knew the truth about Norman Bates and had only seen the shower scene from the movie.  So, the end was spoiled for me.  But, honestly, how many people didn’t know what happens in this story?
I was disappointed that there wasn’t more content on Bates.  But, for a short novel it did well.  I’m intrigued on the grief aspect that drove Bates to continue to act as though his mother was alive.  It’s just such a wonderful blend of what can happen mentally in a person to deal with situations in their life.

Last night, my wife and I were talking about the Life of Pi.  She hasn’t read it but saw that it’s going to be a movie soon and asked about the premise.  This is another example of what the mind can do in a person to help them deal with their experiences.  I’m still inclined to believe that the boy in Life of Pi really was on the boat with a tiger.   (SPOILER WARNING) But, it is suggested that he was actually on a lifeboat with a man who engaged in cannibalism and how the character chose to deal with that situation.  Again, while I believe in the literal experiences of the character it is intriguing that the medical professionals at the end of the book could see the possibility of him creating a different situation to make what he experienced more acceptable.
So I compare Bates and Pi together and I’m even more fascinated about the human mind and potential.  Bates didn’t like who his mother was dating so he killed them and then blocked that event from his memory and believed that his mother was still alive.  Even if the character in Pi wasn’t really with a tiger, zebra, and baboon, he interpreted the other people as the animals as a defensive mechanism to deal with cannibalism in the man he associates as the tiger.  All I can say is wow.  Both characters were young when they faced these situations.  But one was faced with life or death and managed to survive without losing his humanity while the other (Bates) just didn’t like who his mother was dating and clearly went off his rocker by killing numerous people.

What is it that really drives someone to that point?  You get the feeling that Bates was very sheltered.  His mother never liked what he read and he seems to only have able to read what he wanted after he had killed his mother. Yet, even sheltered, he was able to carry out murder.  The kid in Pi lived in a zoo.  He saw nature in a somewhat raw form.  He watched the tiger kill and eat the zebra and baboon.  But, having grown up around animals who kill for their food and all the potential disturbing images that would result, he didn’t go insane.

Ultimately, that is what intrigues me the most about killers in reality and fiction.  How can two individuals go through traumatic events and one comes out “normal” but the other becomes a killer?  It’s something I think about a lot as I create my own villains.  What do I need to put them through to become the villain I need them to be?  What do they have to experience to become a thief, killer, etc?  There are so many variables that influence our decisions.  That is what makes writing villains so fun and such a headache at the same time.

The curse of the day job

Earlier in June I went back out to Pennsylvania to attend the next residency at Seton Hill for my Masters in Writing Popular Fiction. Now a few weeks later and I am seriously struggling to get back into the grove t my day job. My apathy to the plight of customers has reached an all time low. All I want to do is write and and hang out with my new friends from SHU and brainstorm ideas. But at the same time, my day job takes up so much time and effort that I am exhausted by the time I get home and just want to play with my kids, put them to bed, and fall asleep.

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Archy Sparks and the Think Tank pitch

My 71000 word middle grade science fiction novel is the controlled society of The Giver mixed with the wonder, mystery, and adventure of the Harry Potter series set on a dystopian robot inhabited world where eleven year old Archy has been left disfigured from bullying to resemble the worst criminals in history. Caught in the middle of a plot of kidnapping Archy can either save the people who shun him or accept the invitation to join the criminal underground.

Seton Hill Writing Popular Fiction

I have been absent from many outlets on the Internet for some time now. Part of this was due to the birth of a child and some of it was because I was doing NaNoWriMo in November. After that I just needed a break before starting school at Seton Hill. This is my first residency for the program and I have learned so much. Not the least of which is that I suck at writing and that any who has read my one novel so far is a liar. That said. I just have more to learn and benefit from this program over the next few years. Probably won’t post much on here because of how much writing I will be doing for the program but I will try to post experiences with the program should some prospective student stumble across this.

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Location:Seton Hill Dr,Greensburg,United States