Posts Tagged ‘stephen king’

Writing with the door closed.

One of my favorite books on writing is, well, On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve never actually read it, only listened to it. I first heard the audio version in 2002 and ever since I have listened to it at least once a year, usually right at the beginning of the fall semester, as a sort of rejuvenation of my writing spirit. King reads the book himself and it’s a great presentation. I’ve heard it so many times – and enjoy it so much, to be honest – that listening to it at the end of September, I had fun seeing how many times I could say the lines right along with Stephen. Surprisingly, or perhaps not-so surprisingly, it happened pretty frequently. I guess you could say I’m a King convert when it comes to many of his ideas about writing. I have close to ten copies of the book in its print form, by the way, and they get loaned out to friends on occasion (and were used by the Ron Book Team last week for the October book club discussion) if you’re in the area and we’re on first-name basis.

I’m writing today to bring forth one of King’s great ideas, one he cribbed from a newspaper editor he worked with in high school: Read more…


My Summer Reading List

05.28.2009 1 comment

I have an ambitious reading list for this summer. Just like my dedication of two hours to write a day (or ten hours per week), I’m challenging myself to read for ninety minutes a day on Monday thru Wednesday plus Friday, or six hour a week. I tend to read 40 pages in an hour, 50 when I’m really feeling it, so if we take my optimistic number and combine it with six hours that’s 300 pages per week. Starting this week through the end of August, that’s fifteen weeks or 4500 pages. …That seems like a lot. I may have to re-think this. In the meantime, let’s get a little ambitious this morning!

All of these are selections I’ve never read before, so I have a completely fresh slate of stories awaiting me. Here they are in no particular order:

Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel, 272 pages)

The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (fiction novel, 288 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

On the Road by Jack Kerouac (nonfiction novel, 307 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (nonfiction novel, 274 pages) * Excelsior UMC Men’s Book Club selection

The View From the Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockemeier (short story collection, 288 pages)

Tin House #39 (short stories and poetry, 200 pages)

I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Diana Joseph (nonfiction short story collection, 208 pages)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (nonfiction, 320 pages)

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (fiction, 528 pages… I can’t find the abridged version, which the Ron Book Team has decided is just fine for our summer reading) * Ron Book Team selection

How to Think Theologically by Howard W. Stone & James O. Duke (textbook, 126 pages)

Best American Short Stories 2008 (short story collection, 384 pages)

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier (fiction novel, 272 pages)

I also have the following to “read” on audio, all of which are re-reads for me:

On Writing by Stephen King (nonfiction novel)

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (short story collection)

Up in Honey’s Room by Elmore Leonard (fiction novel)

The Areas of My Expertise by John Hodgman (kinda-sorta-not-really nonfiction novel)

From a Buick 8 by Stephen King (fiction novel)

That’s only 2235 pages – a far cry from the 4500 pages I calculated above. I think I’m going to be reading a lot slower than at my 50-pages per hour clip. I’ll be reading short stories and each one of those deserves to be digested slowly like little meals unto themselves. Some of the novels are for Men’s Book Club and I want to slow down and annotate them so I can better lead discussion sessions. And others I hope are so good I’ll need to slow down and savor them (Road Dogs). I’ll keep you posted as I finish different stories.

Right now, Kelly and I are almost finished with the audio version of From a Buick 8 and I’m about forty pages into The Last Picture Show and really enjoying it. I hope to finish it before I go to camp and start on a new book by then, too (that’s June 13, for readers who aren’t in the know).

What are you reading this summer?


Chicago Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 1 (Part II)

I’m writing this post about Thursday on Friday, hence references to “last night” and such, even though this is “Day 1, Part II.” Just go with it. 🙂

Google Maps was absolutely right, my trip took just over seven hours, including a bit more that’s all my fault. I got a late start between packing and getting the apartment ready for the weekend so I was rewarded with Twin Cities rush hour to kick off the trip. I listen to audiobooks on my road trips and this trip had me listening to “Birth of the Bomb” from NPR’s The Story and I’m halfway through From a Buick 8 by Stephen King. I listened to this book on audio a few years ago and I’m remembering why I enjoy it so much. King touches on writing this just a bit in On Writing, by the way.

I missed the 9:00pm White Jazz show (bummer, I wanted to see that one) and I pulled in to town just in time for the 10:30pm Messing with a Friend show. Susan Messing was the first teacher I had at my first CIF outing back in 2001 and she was amazing. Got me to be physical in my improv, relax and have fun. She paired herself up with her longtime collaborator, Mick Napier, who I’ve also taken some tremendous CIF workshops from back in the day. I want to say I’ve seen them perform together before, but I can’t remember. What really matters is last night’s show.

Two improvisers having fun. That’s what it boils down to. Susan and Mick showed their audience what a show can be like when the only concern to the performers is to have fun together. The show had a lot of audience interaction, with Susan and Mick coming out into the audience several times. A woman felt Susan’s “pregnant” belly during one scene, and Susan took Minneapolis improviser Aric McKeown’s gum from his mouth (Aric was in the audience and got a nice shout-out from CIF Producer Mark Sutton for The Moustache Rangers who appear at the Annoyance at midnight on Saturday). A slew of scenes depicted the most dysfunctional marriages in the world and at one point the audience were labeled the worst middle school class in the world as teacher Susan berated us for a good ten minutes. I hope her voice holds out for the rest of the festival. Line of the night: “If I had a nickel for every time I was told, ‘Take the lobster bib…'”

The party at the Annoyance was okay, but I was too tired to get involved. Spoke with Joe Bill for a while and, always the diplomat, he introduced me to a few improvisers. I caught a few minutes of the new TJ Jagodowski & Dave Pasquesi improvised documentary, Trust Us, This Is All Made Up in the theater – fun stuff, but again I think I was too tired to appreciate it. Readers in the Twin Cities should go see it at the St. Anthony Main this weekend, however. The TJ & Dave Show is some of the best improv I’ve ever seen (they take no suggestion; the title of the documentary is traditionally the last thing they say before diving into an improv set) and if you can’t see them in-person in Chicago, the documentary may be the next best thing (I rank the film high above their Sonic commercials). When my host for the weekend, Paul, showed up, I was more than ready to leave the party and make my way to a fold-out couch.

A note on parking in Chicago: I love the challenge. Last time I drove to CIF (2005), I had a lot of luck with parking for venues and parties but not-so-much with the friend’s place where I was crashing. One night, I drove around for over an hour looking for a parking space in the neighborhood. That maybe wouldn’t have been so bad if it wasn’t for the particular hour spent trying to park falling between 2:00am-3:00am. This year, I think it will be a mixed bag, too, though luck has been good so far. I found a spot only one block from the Annoyance for the show. Heading up to Evanston, Paul and I parked a few blocks from his and Susie’s apartment building (a beautiful old brick building that tastes of boarding house even before you’re told it is a former abbey). Will my luck hold out? Stay tuned…


Books I gave, books I got

12.25.2008 1 comment

Merry Christmas, dear reader.

Books I received as gifts:

Best American Short Stories 2008 guest edited by Salman Rushdie

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Books I gave as Christmas gifts:

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks

1957 by Pradt & Dexter

1954 by Pradt & Dexter

21 Dirty Trick at Work by Phipps & Gautrey

Multiple Blessings by Jon & Kate Gosselin

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King on audio book

Barrelhouse Magazine – Roller Derby edition (for my wife)

I’ve never owned my own copy of O’Brien’s book, though I’ve read it, and will enjoy having a copy I can annotate at my leisure. As for the latest Best American edition, I’m excited to see some great writers: T.C. Boyle, Alice Munro, Toby Wolff, Nicole Krauss, Jonathan Lethem, and – hooray, hooray! – Kevin Brockmeier. This last author’s story is tops to be read first.

What books did you give / did you receive for Christmas?


Denver Improv Festival – My Trip, Day 3

Our travels took Kelly and me beyond the Denver metro area to Castle Rock to shop for jeans and books at their famed Outlet Mall. While the Vans outlet store apparently no longer exists (it’s where I bought all of my shoes from 2002-2005, including the shoes I’m wearing now… which says a lot about how infrequently I buy shoes, now that I think about it), they had a Borders outlet store with a lot of closeout books. I picked up The Great Gatsby unabridged on CD for a dollar, a $20 book of over-sized posters from The Simpsons, and a copy of Best American Short Stories 2007 (edited by Stephen King), and now have a copy of nearly every year’s volume going back to 1999. Kelly picked up an autobiography, Multiple Bles8ings by Jon & Kate Gosselin (with Beth Carlson who, with apologies to Jon and Kate, probably did quite a bit of the writing). It’s the story of a couple who had twins and sextuplets and who are the subject of Kelly’s new “favorite” TLC TV show, Jon and Kate Plus Eight. I call anything Kelly likes her “favorite” thing, even if it’s not. That’s how I roll.

I also saw a new anthology of 70 short stories since 1970 that looked interesting (it has a lot of the Scribner Anthology in it), as well an older edition of the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction for only $2.99. I was really tempted to pick it up, but my luggage is already pushing the 50-pound limit at 48 pounds (mostly thanks to my ukulele amp), so I left the heavy tome on the shelf. Frontier’s already charging $15 per checked bag, one-way, and I don’t feel like having it jump up to $25 by surpassing the 50-pound mark; that would make the Norton book $13 and at that price I might as well buy it at home or online (addendum: a quick Amazon check lists Norton as $44 and up, so maybe I missed out).

We continued south and visited the Garden of the Gods, one of my favorite geological anomalies I’ve ever visited. I haven’t been there since I was in high school, but it was as beautiful as ever.Here are some photos we took:

Finally, we headed to see my cousin, Kris, and his wife, Janette, in Colorado Springs. We had some dinner, looked at photos from their trip to China, gossiped about the family, and played the terrible, terrible Wii video game that is Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? I’ll tell you who I am smarter than – the programmers who decided this product was finished and ready for consumers to plunk down money to buy (luckily, it was merely a rental). We forgot to bring our extra Wii-motes and our copy of our latest Wii game addiction, Boom Blox, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Remember, 50-pound luggage weight limit.

This morning I graded essays (yay!), Kelly slept in (yay!), we drove the Charger north (meh), and ended up back in Denver. I’m writing this in our room at the downtown Hampton Inn where Joe Bill is also staying; I know because we bumped into each other in the lobby, where handshakes and bear hugs were to be had. Joe’s one of those guys who’s been around the Chicago improv scene forever, plus the national improv scene for as long as I can remember. His classes will change your improv, his shows will inspire your improv, and his down-to-earth personality really helps eliminate any perceived “guru status” stigma. I’m looking forward to seeing his shows this weekend.

I did tech rehearsal at the Bovine Metropolis for the Denver Improv Festival and saw several familiar faces from back in the day. Ryan Williams and Chris Wolf are Curds Only, the group I’m sharing the bill with for tomorrow night’s 7:30pm show. Ryan’s been in Chicago for a year and it sounds like good things are happening, while Chris served as tech for the Improv Hootenanny back when Rick and I were doing regular shows here. I’ve improvised with both of these guys before, they’re cool and talented. I also re-met Jean Schuman and Jon Lannen. I say re-met because I know I met them, albeit briefly, way back when they were in a high school improv troupe called Spontaneous Combustion. They’re producing the festival and these two are far more pumped and charged up than anything, and that feeling is both palpable and infectious. Finally, I bumped into Eric Farone, owner of the Bovine Metropolis Theater. Eric and his wife, Denise, have done a lot to put Denver improv on the map and his theater space appears ready for some insane improv action this weekend.

That’s it for today. Kelly and I are heading out to dinner and an evening of improv. I’ll keep you posted.


Your Friday Recommendation #24

A few weeks back I wrote about Cormac McCarthy’s The Road being turned into a film that will be released this Thanksgiving, and in the process of doing some research for that blog post I stumbled across a new steelbook edition DVD of The Proposition, an excellent film which led me to McCarthy in a very roundabout way.

In this gritty western, a lawman (Ray Winstone in a pre-Beowulf / The Departed / Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull role) convinces an outlaw (Guy Pearce) to hunt down and kill his older, sadistic outlaw brother in order to save his up-and-coming young outlaw brother from hanging. The morbid theme of robbing Peter to pay Paul by sacrificing one’s evil kin to grant life to one’s innocent-yet-becoming evil kin carries an appropriate amount of weight and intrigue in this Nick Cave-scribed script. Cave also provides the soundtrack and while I’ve never been one to say, “Man, I better go pick up the latest Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds record today!” kind of guy, but Cave knows the mood of his script well and composes appropriately.

The film isn’t for the weak-stomached. The killings are gory, the outlaws’ deeds are horrific, and the characters are filthy, I think Pearce’s skin is at least 85% coated in greasy dirt for the entire film. If one can get past subject matter that could make one squeamish (which, to me, should never be a reason to skip a well-made film), they’re going to find a well-crafted morality tale that never lets up on the suspense, beautiful scenery, or impressive acting. All of these positives must be what led Roger Ebert to think of this movie in terms of Cormac McCarthy.

In his review, Ebert writes, “Have you read Blood Meridian, the novel by Cormac McCarthy? This movie comes close to realizing the vision of that dread and despairing story.” This was the second mention I’d heard of McCarthy after reading Stephen King’s mention of the writer and a brief passage quotation from Blood Meridian as an example of great writing in his memoir on the craft, On Writing. It was enough to get me interested to check out both The Proposition and pick up a copy of Blood Meridian, and that’s how I found a new favorite writer.

My guess is this re-release is timed to help create buzz for the film adaptation of The Road which is directed by The Proposition director, John Hillcoat, and features The Proposition star, Guy Pearce, (his breakout role was as goody-two-shoes turned hardened cop Ed Exley in L.A. Confidential, though you may know him best as a tattooed Forgetful Jones in Memento) in a supporting role. Hillcoat is a director who knows how to create the right mood based on his source material and I for one am glad some studio executive was smart enough to hand The Road to a director who will likely do something appropriate and great.

The film came out in late 2005 and I caught the very last screening in the very last movie theater showing the film in Minnesota in the spring of 2006. I’m glad I made the effort to catch it, because it’s not an underrated film by any means (those who see it tend to enjoy it), but it sure is under-known. I hope more and more people see it, and this new, well-priced at $10 steelbook edition may help The Proposition gain a second life on DVD.

FYI, if you have the previous edition (which I had on my Amazon wishlist for nearly two years but never indulged myself in picking up) on DVD already, everything appears to be the same aside from the packaging. Steelbook DVDs are regular DVDs in a steel-lined case. The cover is etched into the steel and the package is lined with common DVD holding plastic innards. It’s neat, and some DVD nerds track these down like delicious cookies but for me, if it was no different than a regular DVD edition except for a higher price, I’m not sure I would be all that enticed. For the record, this is my first steelbook DVD and while I’m not going to go out and hunt them all down, it sure is pretty.

And if you’re still not convinced, here’s the trailer, complete with moody Nick Cave music:


Browsing books in the store

I was in Walgreens this week waiting for my photos and wandered around the store for a while as the technician tried to fix the photo development machinery. Try as he might, he couldn’t fix the machine but my time spent waiting ended up with me doing something I haven’t done in a long time – reading the beginning of a book in a store.

A bin of discount hardcover bestsellers marked down to two for $10 caught my eye and I cracked open “Cell” by Stephen King. (Yes, I know it’s been Stephen King Mania Week at The Scrawl this week but bear with me; it’s likely my recent mania is what made me read “Cell” over Dennis Lehane’s short story collection “Coronado.”) I read the first fifteen pages and liked what I read. King dives right into the zombie action and the gory body count reaches a few dozen by page eight or so. It feels well-written, too, so there’s something for those seeking good zombie literature. The book’s subject matter aside, what struck me most was that I decided to read the opening of a book and see if I like it.

I used to browse bookstores. Spot a catchy title or cover, recognize a writer’s name. Pick up the book and read a little bit, see if it grabs me. I did this more when I was in college, developing a sense of what kind of books I like to read. But I honestly can’t remember doing this once during my MFA days. Instead, I sought out recommended writers and titles, favorite writers and their latest work. I bought these books without reading page one and have seldom been disappointed with these “blind buys.”

It’s entirely possible that my days of browsing are over. When I go to a store I’m often in a rush and know exactly what I want to buy (poor Target rarely sees me wandering beyond the loss leaders like DVDs and basic grocery items). Plus, most of my book-buying has been online the last few years because I’m a bargain hunter; this may be the move that adds “money” to “time” in this equation. I wonder if the act of reading in the store is becoming rarer for me not because I’m adverse to doing it but because I don’t present myself with the opportunity as much, anymore. I liked giving it a try in Walgreens though, and I suspect if I want to do it again, I may actually have to schedule it. Scheduled wandering. Is this what it’s come to?

I didn’t have ten bucks on me when I read the opening of “Cell” but I may end up snatching it and the aforementioned “Coronado” later this week. Just what I need – more books on the shelf. Yet I’m a sucker for a deal and as someone who absolutely believes good writing is good writing no matter if it’s genre or Literature with a capital L, these books appeal to me.

Has anybody out there read these two titles? Any good? Also, do you read books in the store before you buy them? If so, why? If not, what’s stopping you?