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Tag Archives: Stephen King

Greetings, Bearers!

No, I doubt that Stephen King will see this, because… well, the guy probably doesn’t know that I exist.  But that’s okay, because the trailer for the beginning of his Magnum Opus has finally been released after far too long, and it looks phenomenal!

The Dark Tower Trailer

Got a little bit of a wait for it, but I’m very pumped about this one!

Okay, let me continue with my own feeble attempts at writing now…

See you in the Vein, or maybe in MidWorld!

J. Dean

Greetings, Bearers!

So, here I am, taking a little break from my novel and short story work. And it couldn’t have come at a more convenient time, because I’m discussing a problem I’ve just recently run into with my own labors.

So I came up with what I thought was a good idea for a short story, and I started writing it. And as I wrote it, I kept altering it in little details here and there.  After all, in a sense the things we write have a tendency to take on a life of their own, figuratively speaking, and don’t always end up the way we planned.  And boy did it go off in a different direction.  What I had originally intended to be a five or six page short story is now morphing into a twenty-plus page piece, and I’ve run into a place where I’m not so sure I want to go in the original direction for the story’s ending, as it reads a little too much like another story I’ve written (more on that later).

Anyway, I’ve done something that I hoped I would avoid, something I’ve done before, and I’m sure you have done before as well if you’ve ever done any writing:

I’ve written myself into a corner.

I wouldn’t exactly call it “writer’s block” per se. It’s not like I can’t think of anything to write. But I would say that what I want to write is making me balk a bit at actually writing it, because what I don’t want is a reader reading it and saying “Oh, J. Dean already did this.” I mean–yes, things are going to be somewhat the same, as there is nothing new under the sun. But it’s like listening to a music artist whose songs, though good, tend to sound a little too much like one another. And while I don’t necessarily want to go off the deep end from myself stylistically (and if I did it would make the story even worse), I also don’t want to end up being too predictable.

So my hope is that, in writing about writing one’s story into a corner, I can help myself as well as all of you should you find yourself in this situation.

There are a few options you can use to get out of writing yourself into a corner. I’ve used all of these before, and I haven’t decided which one will work for my current situation, so this will give me a fresh perspective on how to get out of this corner, and it will hopefully help all of you, my lovely readers.

The Nuclear Option: This is a last resort, of course. Robert Heinlein had five rules for writing, and his second rule what that “You must finish what you write.” I agree in general, but I also understand the frustration which comes when you have tried over and over, but simply do not like what your product is or is becoming. Scrapping the whole thing should be done only after other options have been weighed out, but at the same time, it is an option, one that I’ve personally used. So use it if needed, but use it only when you’ve tried every other avenue. Stephen King once said that notebooks for ideas are where bad stories go to live forever, and I would venture to say the same thing about stories that have been salvaged with every good intent yet still fail to sustain either the writer or the reader.

Fresh Eyes: Yeah, I get it: we don’t like letting other people read our unfinished work. You and me both. But at the same time, letting somebody who’s unfamiliar with your story take a look at it and offer suggestions can be of great benefit.  Sometimes we’re a little too “comfortable” with our styles and our stories, and we’re beholden to our biases and our mindsets in a way that blinds us to other options. Giving somebody else a chance to look over what we’ve done so far while asking for suggestions, though embarrassing for some of us, is a good way to take the blinders off and see more potential pictures.

The Road Less Traveled: If you can, back up and find the spot where you led yourself into the corner. Sometimes the fix is as easy as having your protagonist turn left when he or she should have turned right. Yes, it might involve a little bit of editing or outright rewriting, but it’s an ounce of prevention, let it keep that pound of cure at bay.

Write something, write anything: Sometimes, when I’m in that corner, I’ll just start writing, even if the idea isn’t fully developed. I’ll take the protagonist, the antagonist, or even the setting in a direction that’s both unexpected and unorthodox. Even if I end up not liking what I’ve written, I’ve at least given myself something to say “Hey, this isn’t good. ‘X’ or ‘Y’ would be better,” and then I’ll proceed with “X” or “Y”.  Once in a while it takes conceiving a bad idea to birth a good one.

Plan your trip: Now this one varies from writer to writer. I know of writers who don’t like to plan anything at all regarding characters or plot, and they insist their stories turn out just fine. I admire them for that, but to be honest that rarely works for me. I frankly have to plan ahead for the most part. In fact, it was not planning ahead that got me into this little fiasco in the first place. Yes, allow for wiggle room and potential deviancy in your plot and characters, but at the same time it’s best that you have at least a rough idea of where you’re going and how you’re getting there. One can plan generalities without sacrificing spontaneous specifics.

Okay, I’m going to hold there for now. Perhaps I’ll add a “Part 2” to this list later on, but for now think on what I’ve said here.  And hey, email me your own ideas! I’ll be happy to add them!

Alright, dinner calls. Cold pasta does not taste good, just so you know.

See you in the Vein!
J. Dean

 

Greetings, Bearers!

Go get a cup of your preferred beverage.  Let’s sit and chat for a moment.

Before I begin with my topic, I’d like to say thank you to all of you who recently downloaded my short story “Thread. Bare.” (see the below post).  It’s received a rather warm reception with good feedback.  Considering that even my daughter likes it, that’s a wonderful thing!  If you liked it, please do me the honor of telling somebody else about it!

And now, on to our talk…

Now, this post is geared mostly for you other writers/authors out there, but even if you’re nothing more than an aficionado of good writing, please feel free to sit in on this talk and comment as well. Many voices make for interesting discussions.

I’d like to talk a little bit about the Art of the Short Story with you, and specifically about the preservation of that art.

You see, when you hear about bestselling fiction books, you generally associate those sales with novels.  And that’s understandable: people like a well-developed story with well-developed characters, and a novel provides the perfect place to do that.  After all, the greater amount of time, space, and words that an author has, the more easily those elements can be spread out and used in greater quantity.  And if you’re one of the authors out there (like me) who likes to write novels, more power to you.  Keep writing them.

But I’d also like you to think about diverting at least some of your energy to the short story.

You see, while the novel has the advantage of length, the short story, when properly crafted, possesses the opposite advantage: that of brevity.  It’s a condensed segment of a larger world, much like the difference between a still photo and a full-length motion picture feature.  Yet when properly written, the short story can tell just as complete a story as any novel, sometimes even more completely.  A reader reading a well-penned short story can come away with as much developmental satisfaction as (s)he would with a full novel, and do so within a condensed portion of time.

To carry the snapshot vs. film analogy even further, consider the paintings of Norman Rockwell.  If you’ve ever looked at his work, you don’t just see a still shot; you see a still shot of life happening.  You see people who aren’t stopping for a portrait.  Instead, they’re frozen while in the process of moving, talking, acting, interacting with each other and the environment.  And your mind, whether or not it intends to, fills in the gaps of the situation with your own contrived stories.

For example, consider this Rockwell sample from The Saturday Evening Post. Look at it and tell me what’s happening.  Who catches the boys in the middle of their swimming party?  How long had they been there?  Note the boys that are half-dressed: did they do that as soon as they got out of the lake (or was it a river?  Who says it can’t be a river) or did they scramble ashore, snatch their clothing up, and stuff feet into shoes and arms into sleeves while in the process of running for their lives?  What about the dog?  Did the dog bark and give away their little getaway to a passer-by?  Was the person who caught them somebody they knew? A parent? A policeman?  A group of people?  Is that person (or those people) standing there shouting, or chasing after them in hot pursuit?

Even as I write these questions and glance at the picture, my mind is putting together its own possible answers and sketching a story.  And the beautiful thing is that Rockwell makes us do all of this with a single painted picture.  We don’t need a movie, or even a short film clip, to put the story together.  Rockwell put things in motion, and with our imaginations we gave those things our own imagined starting points and destinations.

And we can do the same thing with our short stories.

Another advantage about short stories is the “hit-and-miss” probability that works in our favor.  One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, while addressing an audience at Point Loma Nazarene University in California (see video link below) made this excellent point, which I will now paraphrase: You can spend one year of your life writing a bad novel; but it’s hard to spend a year of your life writing a short story a week and write fifty-two bad short stories.  The man is right, and I say that as somebody who likes writing novels as well.  The more you write, and the more various things you write, the more likely you are to put something out there that people will like (unless you’re just outright not trying to write well).

I’d like to throw out a little challenge to those of us writers/authors out there who like our novels, and it’s something I put myself under as well.  I challenge us to set aside a brief amount of time each day and try to craft a good short story.  Make it deliberate; don’t let it blossom into a novel.  Try to cap it, make it work within four pages or six thousand words, or whatever limit you want to place on it.  Try to do with your short story what Norman Rockwell did with his pictures: capture a segment of life in motion, and let that segment become a world of its own.

Immerse yourself in short stories.  Read Bradbury.  Read Stephen King.  Read Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman, Flannery O’Connor.  Go to your library, or local bookstore, or go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble.  Look up short story anthologies.  Read them.  Learn from the best and graft their techniques and styles into your own.  As Bradbury said: good writers borrow.  Great writers steal.

For myself, I doubt I could pull off Bradbury’s challenge of one short story per week.  But, I think I can try one per month.  Some of them I’ll post here for free; others I’ll make part of the Surrealities series on Smashwords, and will someday (soon I hope) compile them into a single unit of short stories for sale, like I did with Alternate Endings.  I’ll probably write novels between now and the day I draw my final breath in this world.  But I’m going to make the short stories a bit more deliberate and planned, too.

So give it some thought.  And please feel free to send me some feedback.

Thanks for reading this.  As a parting gift, I’ll leave you two links below.  One is the aforementioned Ray Bradbury  video.  The other is a video interview with Stephen King about short stories, which I believe you will find to be interesting as well.

Okay, enough prattle from me.  Can’t write when I’m writing… wait…. 😀

See you in the Vein!
J. Dean

Youtube: “An Evening with Ray Bradbury”

Youtube: “Stephen King on the craft of Short Story Writing”

Threadbarecover

Greetings, Bearers!

In between my other projects, I found time to write a quick little story that I hope you enjoy:  “Thread. Bare.”

I won’t give much about the story away, except that it was inspired by something Stephen King said during an interview (Here’s the interview, if you’d like to try to figure out where the idea came from before reading the story).

The story is free at Smashwords for a limited time.  If you like it, let me know and tell somebody else about it! 😀  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Okay, back to work for me.

See you in the Vein (and anywhere else I might pop up!)

J. Dean

Greetings, Bearers!

I happened to get a snow day today (Meaning I get to sit at home and attempt to write while my children watch endless reruns of Phineas and Ferb and my wife (also a teacher… with a snow day) contemplates ways to be productive while at home (Yeah… good luck with that…).  Anyway, while I was surfing the web this morning (a guilty pleasure which I don’t always get to do), I ran across THIS POST from a fellow at the Kindleboard Writers’ Cafe concerning our responsibility as writers with regard to our audience and whether or not we consider that they may act upon what we write.  He cited Stephen King (the man who essentially made me want to be a writer, whom I still hold in very high regard even though I don’t like a good deal of his politics) and his pulling of the book Rage.  I replied with the below response.  Keep in mind that, while I have some disagreement with King, I nevertheless still admire him, still love his work, and would still point to the man as a must-read for any aspiring author.

Read and enjoy, and feel free to let me know what you think!

And perhaps, just perhaps, I might get a page or two done today! 😀  (Snow days aren’t always everything they’re cracked up to be. Trust me!)

See you in the Vein!

J. Dean

My disagreement with King about his gun control stance aside for the moment, I think that’s something for people to evaluate for themselves.

Having said that, let me say this: one of the things we need to consider when writing a book that depicts a particular type of conceivably real evil (going on a shooting spree or cheating on one’s spouse, for example) is how that evil is portrayed.  When we as writers glorify the evil act in a manner that seems to bring reward to the evildoer, then we should reconsider how we are portraying evil.  Especially when it comes to writing books intended for younger people;they can be and are affected by the media to which they subject themselves, even if that affectation is only a slight nudge here and there.  What they take in affects their worldview in all senses: their outlook on violence, sexuality, social interaction, etc., all of it is somewhat affected.

When I write about evil, I want it to really be evil and in the end to be as ugly, horrific, and repulsing as possible, even if the story necessitates a sort of allure to that evil at the outset.  Thus, when I write about a marital affair, I write about it with bad consequences soon to follow, because I believe marital affairs are wrong on several levels (unlike Mr. King, who more than once has written about marital affairs in his fiction and has made the violated party of the affair turn into the “bad guy” at times, such as in his works Salem’s Lot, his short story “The Ledge,” and one of the vignettes in the movie Creepshow (the one with Ted Danson)).  When I write about somebody undertaking unjust violence, regardless of the weapon used, I’m not going to make that person look like a hero, nor will I turn him (or maybe her) into a “victim” of circumstances.  Yes, people are fallen, are sinners, and will never be Clocwork Orange in their morals (“Clockwork Orange” meaning perfectly good or perfectly evil in all aspects), but that does not mean I glorify or excuse the bad man for bad actions. 

Regarding Stephen King’s decision to pull his book RAGE, I haven’t read it, so I can’t make any good or bad judgment about it.  And I appreciate the fact that he’s putting principle over commerce in pulling his book; that’s very admirable.  To be honest, I’m not sure why a parent would allow a child to read something like Stephen King, as the man is definitely NOT a young adult writer. I would not allow my children to read King, not because I think they would act on something he put down, but because they’re not mature enough to handle fiction like his.  

But at the same time, I don’t blame Stephen King for anything done by anybody who says they picked an idea up from his book concerning a heinous act.  To do so is to absolve people from responsibility for their personal actions, and essentially allow them to get away with any wicked act under the guise of “the devil (or fill in whatever name you want here) made me do it.”  We saw this with people blaming Ozzy Osbourne and Judas Priest for the deaths of teenagers.  We saw this with a woman who spilled hot coffee in her lap and suing McDonalds for what essentially amounted to her not taking care of her drink the right way.  We saw this with people suing tobacco companies and gun manufacturers instead of laying the blame at the feet of people who misused those products.  We’re very quickly turning into a society with Freud’s outlook on life: Everything bad I do is laid at the feet of anybody and everybody except for me.  

Is Stephen King worried that somebody reading THE SHINING is going to go to a hotel and start chopping down doors?  Is he afraid that somebody reading 1408 is going to set himself on fire in order to snap out of a trance because he believes an unknown entity is shaping the reality about him?  Is he afraid that somebody who has read “Lunch at the Gotham” is going to start running around with a knife and start going “Eeeee!”?  Is he worried that somebody reading “Nona” is going to imagine a woman telling them how to harm other people? Or how about somebody reading “Strawberry Spring?”, “Cain Rose up?”, or “Morning Deliveries”?  Those all portray very realistic methods of killing other people, yet I don’t see him worried about somebody taking those ideas and running with them.  And if somebody decided to fill a milk jug with cyanide or a poisonous spider, then turn around and say he/she got the idea from King, I would not turn around, point at the author, the man who basically made me (and I’m sure some of you here) want to start writing, and say to him “YOU DID THIS!!!”  

I get that, based upon his political position, King is going to have a certain view on guns-one that I sharply take issue with him on-and while I’m not going to go so far as to label him a hypocrite, I will say this: there are plenty of other ways he details killing in his books which have nothing to do with firearms, and are just as plausible for somebody to undertake if they had the gumption and desire to do so.  Just because it’s not done with a gun doesn’t make it any less of a violent act.

So I’ll summarize with this to end it: write, and write well.   People will make their own decisions, and are responsible for their own actions; you cannot control others.  Just make sure you consider how you portray evil in your book.  And remember that evil comes in more forms than just the ones our pop culture deems as such.

Greetings, Bearers!

I’m in the middle of doing much, so I cannot unfortunately spend too much time on this post, but I wanted to drop a couple of inspirational tidbits for you from two of my favorite authors.

The first one comes from the guy who made me say “I wanna write like that!”  Mr. Stephen King,  who has perhaps one of the best prose styles I’ve ever seen.  Here he’s giving a little advice about writing.  Even if you’re not a horror fan, but you aspire to be good at writing, I highly recommend picking up at least one Stephen King book and reading through it.  The man can make you envision anything, and he’s got a real gift for literature.

The other comes from my other favorite, Ray Bradbury.  He’s great, with economical use of words and word pictures that are as imaginative as they are unconventional.  Again: he is a must-have for the literary fan.  I personally recommend Fahrenheit 451 or, for something a little darker, Something Wicked This Way Comes; or if you prefer stories lesser in length, pick up any one of his short story collections.

These men know what it is to be good writers, not simply because of their fame and fortune, but because they know how to write, they love writing, and they share the joy they get with every reader willing to jump into the alphabet soup they stir with their imaginations!

Enjoy, and see you in the Vein!

J. Dean

Greetings, Bearers!

As I mentioned before in this blog, I’m a glutton for punishment, as I’m not only working on the Vein series, but also preparing a short story collection for publication.  I’ve essentially finalized the stories to be included in Alternate Endings, but thanks to a student of mine there may be a bonus story included.

All because of a little inspiration.

It’s amazing where inspiration can strike you, and in what way it manifests itself.  Ask any handful of authors, and they’ll give you a diverse account of situations in which inspiration came to them, sometimes without rhyme or reason.    

Stephen King remarked that his short story “The Mist” (originally incorporated into the collection Skeleton Crew) came about because he was in the grocery store buying hot dog buns.  His imagination took off in the form of a dinosaur-like creature flying through the aisles, and time at the typewriter filled in the rest of the details.

Ray Bradbury took his inspiration for The Illustrated Man from a fellow covered in tattoos, and the ambitious author decided to capture several of those images and make up stories concerning each one. 

This is what inspiration is like.  It’s basically letting your mind wander to the ends of the earth (or to another dimension) and discovering either what’s there or what could be there.  It can come at the oddest of times: at work, at church, in the shower, while you’re arguing with somebody, or any other odd time.  It’s taking the familiar and turning it into the unfamiliar through adding a little twist or wrinkle, making reality surreal by taking one card away from the deck and dealing a hand to your protagonists and antagonists, letting the game play out. 

It’s what makes writing fun.

And a student of mine reminded me of this.  She told me about something her friends did for fun at her house, running around outside playing a game called Ghosts in the Graveyard. I never played the game (you don’t play a game like that when your older cousins have a wicked sense of humor!), but I knew enough about it to get the gist of what they did.  So I took that information, tucked it away, and went along my business, in hopes of pulling it out and working on it later. 

Apparently, it has a mind of its own.

So there I was, cleaning up in the shower, when this student’s tale came back to me.  No sooner did it come to me than the tale morphed into a sudden story, plot and all, just dropping into my lap, arranging itself into a story that was quite nice to ponder. 

All because of inspiration.

So because of that little spark of inspiration I received, I might be adding another story to the collection, depending on how long it takes me to write and edit it.  Meaning that I, the author, have the benefit of mapping new corner of a nightmare, and that you, the reader, will have the benefit of following my charted course!

Thank God in heaven for inspiration 😀

See you in the Vein!

J. Dean

Greetings, Bearers!

And to this entry I add a hearty “WHEW!” By this time tomorrow, I’ll have my last short story for Alternate Endings finished. After that, it’s just a matter of going back through the works and smoothing out the rough edges, formating the collection so that it looks like an honest-to-goodness professional author was involved in the process ( 😀 ), then getting my cover art in order, and my first short story collection will be ready for purchase!

Thinking about it, it’s been both fun and tedious to put this one together. On the one hand, it’s a good exercise for me (and good entertainment for you) to write short stories, as it presents a diverse platter of selections for you to peruse and enjoy. On the other hand, as I’ve said before, my short stories at times tend to get longer than originally planned, and almost end up being novellas (I’ve got two of them in this collection. Hey, Stephen King, if you read this, tell me how you prevent this from happening!).

Next week, I’ll send you more details as to the contents of the collection. For now, it’s time to tidy up one last story and get it ready for inclusion.

In the meantime, I’ve also put together a review of Peter Straub’s book A DARK MATTER, which I posted on Amazon.com a couple of days ago, but for some reason has not shown up on their website. When it comes up, I’ll let you know.

So, in the meantime, I’ll polish up my new creation, keep pressing forward on the Summoning of Kran, and do all of this with an I.V. of coffee needled into my arm!

See you in the Vein!
J. Dean