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Favorite Stephen King Books… so far. Halloween 2018.

October 17, 2018

I knew, back in 2016, besides wanting to write my book, that I wanted to read more. When I was younger, I was an avid reader, but over the years my reading habit had slipped into an occasional nibble. And the best way to learn how to write a book was to read books. So, I made a goal. Read two books a month.  Simple enough. But, I had one problem. What do I read? I needed a backbone to fall back on if I couldn’t make a choice on the next book.

Enter Stephen King.  I, somehow, had missed Stephen King books growing up. It wasn’t until I read 11/22/63,  that I became aware of what an excellent writer he was. Stephen King would be my backbone. I would, slowly, consume his massive catalog. I began with The Shining, and have never regretted it after thirty-two books. Well, almost never, there were a few times during Insomnia… Nevermind.

The one thing I learned to love about Stephen King is he loves his characters. And I love characters. It is a match made in hell. Stephen King makes the extraordinary ordinary, by grounding his characters as real people. They are not heroes, just regular people caught up in extraordinary settings. Another author I’ve been reading, Ian McEwan, does the opposite, he makes the ordinary extraordinary.

In other words, I am glad I started on this journey. I have read thirty-two of his books. These are ranked least favorite to favorite. I have enjoyed everything he has read, so least favorite means I liked it, not I hated it. So, without further ado…

Here are my favorite Stephen King Books (worst to best)… so far.

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#32 – End Of Watch

#31 – Mr. Mercedes

#30 – Finders Keepers

The Bill Hodges Trilogy. Decent detective stories, that suffered when the supernatural reared its head at the end of the second book, Finders Keepers. I enjoyed all of it, but it never quite coalesced into a wholly satisfying whole. Finders Keepers is my favorite among the three.

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#29 – The Outsider

The first third of this book is riveting. A man gets arrested as he is coaching a little league game for the gruesome murder of a young boy. The coach, of course, protests, and for the first third of the book, you’re left wondering… But, by the time I read this book I had been inundated with King and the first thing I thought of was The Dark Half. Which is similar, yet different. A man is presented overwhelming evidence he committed a crime he is positive he didn’t commit.  The genius choice of King to put us in the POV of the detectives and prosecutors makes this a riveting exercise in evidence versus evidence. The overwhelming evidence he did it and the overwhelming evidence he didn’t.

Unfortunately, or, maybe expectedly, the book never quite lives up to the first third (How could it? Once the questions become answers.) and the characters go about the mechanics of completing the mission. But, the beginning of the book is some of King’s best.

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#28 – Doctor Sleep

The sequel to The Shining, is a weird novel to discuss. There are some things I loved and others I didn’t. (The Last Jedi, left me with a similar feeling. (I had to get Star Wars in here.)) Danny Torrance dealing with his haunted past, while becoming an alcoholic just like his father? YES! Weird, hippy-esque, shining sucking vagrants? Um… what? I want to read this again. And I will at some point, but for now, this one is held up by all of the Danny character work, which is really good.

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#27 – Insomnia

This was the book I had the most difficult time reading. I am unable to explain why. It took longer than normal to capture my interest and if I hadn’t had good experiences with King’s other books I would’ve tossed it aside. Set in Derry, Insomnia is about an older gentleman who develops a weird bout of insomnia. I say, weird, because it doesn’t seem to be natural.  Also, there are these little bald doctors running around town. I pictured them as miniature versions of the gentlemen from Buffy.

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I also read it has some of the strongest correlation with The Dark Tower series, but I am only on Book Three.

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#26 – Under the Dome

A man named Barbie (can’t stop giggling). Seriously, a man named Barbie (Still laughing). This is one of those: the premise is amazing. But, then what?, stories. Mr. King does his best. Crazy characters. Political drama. A ridiculous and depending on political party hated character named,  James “Big Jim” Rennie. I mean, this book is just going for it. And sometimes I really enjoyed it, and others I laughed out loud at the absurdity. The ending is not surprising. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy reading it, I did, I just didn’t find it as interesting, or impactful (lol), as some of King’s other works.

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#25 – Desperation

After starting out with Stephen King’s greatest hits, I was yearning for a story I had no idea about. Up until Desperation, all of the King books I read, besides the very first book 11/22/63, I knew of the story. Either from seeing a movie or just the general public zeitgeist. So, I wanted something I had no idea about. Nothing. Enter Desperation. I was hooked immediately when a crazy police officer pulls over  Peter and Mary Jackson and the story escalates from there. I had fun reading this one. It also has a “mirror” book released on the same day (CRAZY!!) titled The Regulators, which is on my list to read.

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#24 – Christine

This is one of those premises that would not work in anyone but Stephen King’s hands. I mean, it’s about a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury, come on, it’s ridiculous. And yet, somehow, it works. The characters are well developed. Dennis and Arnie’s friendship make this novel. It is well worth the read. I may have seen the movie, many moons ago, but I don’t remember it. The fact that it was directed by John Carpenter, means it is on my to see list now.

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#23 – Firestarter

This is another book, I had a vague recollection of seeing the movie or at least parts of the movie. I remember Drew Barrymore. Reading the book, though, was a completely new experience and I enjoyed it immensely. A strong father-daughter dynamic keeps the book grounded. My only complaint is Charlie (the firestarter) seems a little wise for an eight-year-old, but that’s just a minor complaint.

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#22 – The Tommyknockers

This is probably King’s (of the ones I ‘ve read anyway) craziest books. And to be honest, I loved eighty percent of it. I mean the last half is insane and fun. I had some issues, with character jumping at the beginning. As once I became invested in a character the story would jump to another one for an extended period of time, but at some point, it coalesced together into some great madness. Really dug this one, even though it is not thought highly of, amongst King fans.

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#21 – Carrie

I love the film by Brian DePalma, and reading the book for the first time was an interesting exercise. I think I would’ve enjoyed it more and would’ve been higher on my list if I had no inkling of the story beforehand. Having said that, I still loved it and, being Stephen King’s first book, it is a remarkable achievement.

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#20 – The Dark Half

Thad Beaumont writes trashy crime novels about a violent killer named Alexis Machine under a pseudonym (hello Mr. Bachman) and, when he is blackmailed with exposure, he decides to kill the pseudonym by coming forward with the truth, with help from his publisher. Unfortunately, his “pen name” George Stark, doesn’t like this idea and decides to come to life and kill all those who wanted to kill him.  Crazy story and fun, if you try not to think too hard about who or what George Stark is. I suppose the title is the key, he is the dark half of Thad Beaumont. Set in Castle Rock, you encounter some familiar names from other novels.

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#19 – Salem’s Lot

A gothic Vampire story, that intrigued, but left me wanting more. Maybe I have been over-exposed to vampires? Maybe this is the one book that seemed somewhat generic, by Stephen King standards? Or maybe my expectations were set too high? I knew the title and had heard so many great things, but when I finished the book, I thought, “That was good, but not quite as good as I thought it would be.” A great novel, marred by my expectations and exposure to the subject. Maybe, when I read it again….

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#18 – The Dead Zone

If Salem’s Lot suffered from great expectations, then The Dead Zone is its complete opposite. I had no idea what I was getting into. A story about a psychic who finds himself involved solving murders and trying to protect the country from a sadistic congressman. Oh, and many other adventures. This one is great because of its bleakness. I know that may sound odd, but I loved how raw and bleak this book is, which is an emotion you will find in some of King’s best.  There is plenty of sadness to go around and I enjoyed all of it.

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#17 – Revival

One of King’s newer novels and a great story. I really enjoyed this. The story is about regret and just moving on with life, while simultaneously looking back. It’s another sad one and reminded me of the T.V. show Carnivale.

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#16 – Pet Sematary

Ughh!  This novel. This book is like staring at an upcoming car accident, paralyzed, unable to move. Unable to shout out a warning. You can’t even look away. The aftermath is disgusting and predictable. One of King’s most disturbing books, that I can’t say I enjoyed, but I also couldn’t stop reading.

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#15 – The Running Man

The Schwarzenegger movie is one of those sci-fi movies from the 80’s I really enjoyed. So, when it came to reading the book, I found myself riveted, once the realization hit that the movie was nothing like the book I was reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the sci-fi world, King creates. The anger, the “screw the system” attitude, shows a young, Richard Bachman writing passionately with a love for the writing craft. I am a sci-fi nerd, more so, than a horror guy and this is right up my alley. Bachman wrote four stories and two of them are in the top 15 of my list, and I haven’t read the other two yet.

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#14 – Duma Key

At the beginning of a few Stephen King books, I began to dread the introduction of the “supernatural”. Why? I knew I was reading a Stephen King book, right? Because the characters and stories were so rich, I wasn’t sure the introduction of the supernatural wouldn’t ruin, what was a fascinating character study. Duma Key is about moving on from tragedy.

“Edgar Freemantle, a contractor in St. Paul, Minnesota, barely survives a horrific on-site accident where his truck is crushed by a crane. Freemantle’s right arm is amputated, and severe injuries to his head cause Edgar to have problems with speech, vision, and memory. As a result, Edgar also has violent mood swings and thoughts of suicide. During one of those mood swings, he attacks his wife, who later cites that as the main reason why she divorced him.

On the advice of his psychologist, Dr. Kamen, Edgar takes “a geographical”: a year-long vacation meant for rest and further recovery. He decides to rent a beach house on Duma Key, a small island off the west coast of Florida, after reading about it in a travel brochure. Edgar’s beach house is located on a part of the island called Salmon Point; Edgar nicknames the house “Big Pink,” because of its rich pink color. On the advice of Dr. Kamen, Edgar revives his old hobby of sketching after he moves into Big Pink. He settles in with the help of Jack Cantori, a local college student.”

SEE! Doesn’t that sound fascinating and King makes it so. Thankfully, when the inevitable “supernatural” element arrives it doesn’t detract from the story and I really enjoyed the ending, as it had me on the edge of my seat. But, part of me wonders if King would like to write a straight literary fiction novel, and feels he can’t? Or the supernatural just comes out of him? Either way, I can’t complain. I just wonder.

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#13 – On Writing

Part autobiography, part writing craft. Part Stephen King being funny as hell. It provides some great advice. One of my favorites is, “Don’t waste time trying to please people.” Oh, and this, ““So okay― there you are in your room with the shade down and the door shut and the plug pulled out of the base of the telephone. You’ve blown up your TV and committed yourself to a thousand words a day, come hell or high water. Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.”

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#12 – 11/22/63

My first Stephen King book, so it holds a soft spot in my heart. It showed me what a masterful storyteller he can be. It also, made me cry out a few times, “WILL YOU GET TO OSWALD ALREADY AND LEAVE THE GIRL BE!” There is a Back to the Future II element, a love story, that seems to come from another novel, and all of it works… somehow.

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#11 – Misery

From here on in, on this increasingly long countdown, these are books I loved and the order may change daily, depending on the mood. These are the King books I will return to. First up, Misery. A writer ends up trapped with a fan of his. Imagine Rian Johnson handing over the script to some Star Wars nut, for The Last Jedi. (See Star Wars). “What do you mean Luke hates the Jedi?” “Why is there a Casino!” “LEIA CAN’T FLY!” SMASH! as the AXE goes down… horrific stuff and Annie Wilkes is a, one in a million, character.

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#10 – Cujo

We all know the story. Dog goes bad. Bad dog. But, the oppressive fear and the inevitable outcome, are what surprised me. This is sad and dark stuff. And as usual, King creates some great character’s who you hope will survive, but you know, probably won’t. One of my biggest surprises while reading these King books was how much I enjoyed Cujo.

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#9 – The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1)

Where to begin with the beginning of the Dark Tower series? I won’t say it was a book that I fell in love with immediately. The absurdity and foreign world were difficult to navigate at first. But, once Jake met up with the gunslinger I was in. The obsession of the gunslinger without the reason was a difficult hurdle for me. I needed to know why he did all he did just to find the man in black. The ending had me confused for days and that, actually, worked in its favor.

And, as of a week ago, I had this originally placed in the teens, but I just finished The Drawing of the Three, and that was the catalyst, as things began to snap into focus and I appreciated The Gunslinger even more. I will also say that I have all the Dark Tower books and I may just read them in a row, while I originally planned on alternating with some other books, but I am one hundred pages into The Waste Lands and I can’t see myself stopping.

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#8 – Bag of Bones

Like Duma Key, this is another story that I felt would’ve been just as good without the supernatural element. In fact, I would say this book is a companion piece to Duma Key. A great ghost story mixed with real emotions. “The narrator, Mike Noonan, a bestselling novelist, suffers severe writer’s block after his pregnant wife Jo suddenly dies of an aneurysm. Four years later, Mike, still grieving, is plagued by nightmares set at his summer house in TR-90 (an unincorporated town named for its map coordinates), Maine. He decides to confront his fears and moves to his vacation house on Dark Score Lake, known as Sara Laughs.” I can’t stress this enough.. this may be King’s most eloquently written book of them all. I loved it.

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#7 – The Green Mile

I somehow avoided massive spoilers for this one before I read it. And for the first part of the book, I wondered, if there was anything supernatural going on at all. I knew there was a movie with Tom Hanks, but I never saw it. I am one hundred percent thankful that I knew nothing more than that it takes place in a prison and there is a large man in said prison. I didn’t even know what the green mile meant. The book, essentially, takes place in one location. In fact, while reading I thought, wow, this would make a great play. Maybe, with some fancy set dressing that would transform the retirement home into the prison and vice versa as we switch times in the narrative. This was an emotional journey and I loved every second of it.

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#6 – Dolores Claiborne

A first-person novel, that is a one-sided conversation? Count me in. I could not put this down. I love first person POV fiction. Okay… sometimes, I love POV fiction. I like that fact that everything is clouded by the person telling the story. From Dolores Claiborne to Forrest Gump. (Forrest Gump did not play football at Alabama.)  There is some dark stuff here. But, the reason for my love and a high ranking is the character of Dolores Claiborne and most importantly, how Stephen King writes her. It is fascinating and entertaining. I read this in one sitting. Okay, maybe two. But, I couldn’t stop. The lack of chapters helped with that.

Dolores Claiborne, an opinionated 65-year-old widow living on the tiny Maine community of Little Tall Island, is suspected of murdering her wealthy, elderly employer, Vera Donovan a person who has been mistreating her, her whole life. The novel is presented as a transcript of her statement, told to the local constable and a stenographer. Dolores wants to make clear to the police that she did not kill Vera, whom she has looked after for years, but does confess to orchestrating the death of her husband, Joe St. George, almost 30 years before. Dolores’s confession develops into the story of her life, her troubled marriage, and her relationship with her employer.”

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#5 – The Long Walk

Before The Hunger Games. Before The Maze Runner. Before  The Divergent Insurgent. Even before Enders Game. There was The Long Walk. Okay, admittedly, the others have better titles. I loved The Long Walk.  It is YA Dystopia at its finest. Part Dystopia, part Stephen King. Part amazing. What’s it about you ask? About a group of kids that have to take a long walk. Exciting?! Well, if they don’t stay above 4 mph they get shot in the head. So, there’s that. Oh, and it is a long walk, starting in Canada and ending somewhere in Massachusetts, which takes multiple days and the winner gets… something. Doesn’t matter. I also liked the ending, even though some seemed to disagree. Great story. Great read.

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#4 – The Shining

I forget, what’s this about? Well, if you’ve seen the movie you may think you know. But, the movie has completely different motivations than the book.  The movie is about you. The book is about the Torrances.

The Shining centers on the life of Jack Torrance, an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who accepts a position as the off-season caretaker of the historic Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies. His family accompanies him on this job, including his young son Danny Torrance, who possesses “the shining”, an array of psychic abilities that allow Danny to see the hotel’s horrific past. Soon, after a winter storm leaves them snowbound, the supernatural forces inhabiting the hotel influence Jack’s sanity, leaving his wife and son in incredible danger.” 

Now, if you read that you would think it is, exactly, like the movie. Except, it’s really not. The book is much more sympathetic to Jack, Danny and, especially, Wendy. They are trying to move on from Jack’s alcoholism. They really want it to work and think that the move up to the hotel will help them. You observe, as Jack gets pulled into this supernatural, haunted world while trying to maintain his sanity. It’s a wonderful story. While I loved the movie, for its visual, psychological mind-bending horror. I love the book for being about the characters.

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#3 – The Stand

If there was a perfect beginning to a novel that represented my sensibilities and apocalyptic joys, it would be the first half of The Stand. The first book I wanted to read after I made my decision to read Stephen King books, as I had seen the mini-series many years ago. Possibly, when it aired. (I am old.) While I loved the first half, the second half struggles a little from well, now what, syndrome. It’s still engrossing but doesn’t quite have that momentum from the first half, where survival is the key.

Some of the characters are a little cliched at times. Hell, I don’t even know how many characters are named, but its a lot. I read the unabridged version and I am curious if the abridged version carries that momentum from the first half better. I am a sucker for good old apocalyptic fiction and what can be better than The Stand.

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#2 – Different Seasons

Remember in my summaries for Duma Key and Bag of Bones, I wondered if this novel would be the one without a supernatural element? This is why! Four fantastic stories, all without the supernatural, but plenty of horrors. Two of them you know:  Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption and The Body. Both are just as good, as you think they are. Better than their film counterparts, The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me. 

The other two novellas (25,000 to 35,000 words) were also quite good. Apt Pupil (also made into a movie), set in 1974, Los Angeles teenager Todd Bowden arrives at the doorstep of elderly German immigrant Arthur Denker, accusing him of being a wanted Nazi war criminal named Kurt Dussander. In The Breathing Method, David, the narrator of the frame tale, is a middle-aged Manhattan lawyer. At the invitation of a senior partner, he joins a strange men’s club where the members, in addition to reading, chatting and playing pool and chess, like to tell stories, some of which range into the bizarre and macabre.

All of these are worthy of a place in the top ten. Together, they wind up at #2.

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#1 – IT

If there was one book to summarize Stephen King, I think it would have to be IT. It’s scary, sad, inescapable, character-driven horror. While the kid’s storyline is the more interesting, than the adult one, they would not work as well without the other.  The contrasting, between adults and children, compels the story to drive home the theme. We believed we could do anything when we were kids, but now that we are adults we are scared to do anything. I loved all of it. The kids are so well written, even though the story takes place in the fifties, it reminded me of my friends at that age. This is the behemoth and altar where Stephen King lies.

The newest movie, while capturing the kids, quite well, just can’t get the fear right, instead relying on jump scares too much, and skipping the absurd.

Read the book.

Accept the gross.

Accept the fear.

Enjoy the memories.

Shed a tear.

Find the key

To Stephen King.

 

*I will update this list every Halloween, as I read more Stephen King.

 

An interview with author, Aaron M. Carpenter. Me.

July 10, 2017

When I was first asked to sit down for an interview, my first thought was, “who would want to interview me?” But, I pushed my lack of hubris aside and decided to go for it. Then on a Sunday in July, the interviewer arrived, and I was struck by his lack of height. His thin hair. The LA Kings shirt… Hey wait, that’s me. Am I interviewing myself? Damn. My mind has broken. The stress of publishing has taken its toll.

I decided to go ahead with the interview.

Interviewer: So, it’s a pleasure to meet you.

Author: Likewise.

Both Author and Interviewer sit on opposite sides of a white, plastic table. In the center of the table is one lamp, with a black base and a white lampshade, casting a warm, dirty, spotlight on the Author. The Interviewer proceeds to pull out a black notebook from a brown bag, which clashes with his LA Kings t-shirt. The Author, meanwhile, wearing pajama bottoms and a black t-shirt, leans back in his folding chair, brushes back his receding hairline and plops his feet, with black socks, one with a hole in them, on the table.

Interviewer: Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

Author: Whatever you want chief.

Interviewer: When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

Author: That’s not easy to say. When I was a kid, I loved books, particularly the late eighties, early nineties, fantasy books. The Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms stories. I even wrote some fan fiction, before it would be considered fan fiction. But, even before that, in Elementary school, I wanted to be a writer. But, it only took a few decades later before I realized what that meant.

Interviewer: What do you mean?

Author: Well. I forgot. I got into film. I wanted to make movies. But, the emphasis was the same. I wanted to tell stories. Look, I already wrote a blog post about all this.

Interview: Ok then. Next question: How long did it take to write, The Ending is Everything?

Author: The whole process from beginning to publishing?

Interviewer: Whatever works for you?

Author: The first draft took about six months. But, there were years of daydreaming beforehand. Then another six months of polishing. Then two months final copyediting and all the publishing junk.

Interviewer: Such as?

Author: Cover design. Blurbs for the back. Interior design. That sort of stuff. In total it was about fourteen to sixteen months, from blank paper to published novel.

Interviewer: So, you don’t know exactly how long it took?

Author: There were quite a few start and stops at the beginning. So, the first draft could be anywhere between four to eight months, depending on when you wanted to start counting.

Interviewer: Fair enough. What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

Author: It depends. Since I am currently devoid of a real job, my day usually begins around eight in the morning. I get coffee. Browse YouTube, Facebook, look at e-mails. Then at nine, I put on my creative hat, and I either work on my blog, write a scene or, and this is the case most days, visualize the scene and work out what the scene should look like, yet don’t write anything down. At noon, I have lunch. Then from one to three, I go through the same process of writing or daydreaming. Then at three, I spend an hour reading or so. Four, I take the dog for a walk, if weather permits. Then spend the rest of the evening hanging out with the family. At eleven in the evening, I sit back down at my computer and write until I can’t write no more.

Interviewer: So, is it fair to say, you do most of your writing late in the evening?

Author: Yes. Like David Hasselhoff, I am a night writer.

The Interviewer gives a slight chuckle, while the Author laughs hysterically at his own joke, banging his fist on the plastic table.

Interviewer: How did your book get published?

Author: I published it myself. Self-published. Indie publishing.

Interviewer: Why?

Author: Well, it’s in my DNA. As a big fan of punk music and the ethics of DIY, it felt natural to go that route. Also, I didn’t want to go through the whole publishing grind. Finding an agent. Selling the book to a publisher. All that stuff. It would take at least another year before anyone would see the book.

Interviewer: But, isn’t it true, that the book would have been more polished and professional if you went with a traditional publisher?

Author: No doubt. But, I am not writing War and Peace here. The Ramones could’ve signed to a major label and spent millions to produce their first album, and it would’ve sounded better. But, it wouldn’t change the music or meaning of the music. It would’ve just sounded cleaner, which may have taken away some of the effect of the album.

Interviewer: That sounds like just an excuse, not to have to deal with rejection.

Author: But, that’s how I looked at it.

Interviewer: Where do you get your information or ideas for your novel?

Author: The idea has stirred in my head for years. It came down to two stories I thought of and an old screenplay, I wrote nineteen years ago with my friend, Steve. Basically, what if ordinary everyday people and their normal everyday drama, was destroyed by a terror attack in seconds. That idea turned into a screenplay for a T.V. show, where the whole first season was about a guy returning home from the Army, and trying to reconnect with the world around him. Then the nuclear bomb goes off at the end of the first season, which puts the whole season and drama into a different context.

Interviewer: How far along did you get writing the T.V. show?

Author: Not far. A couple episodes and the beginning of a Bible for the show.

Interviewer: A Bible?

Author: Yes. Every T.V. show has a bible that is a road map for the show as a whole. What it’s about? The themes. Where it’s going? That sort of thing.

Interviewer: Interesting. What does your family think of your writing?

Author: Besides, the language. I am sure they are fine with it.

Interviewer: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your book?

Author: How much time you don’t spend writing. At least if you are an indie publisher. From a writing perspective, how the characters will take you in unexpected directions.

Interviewer: Can you give an example?

Author: Well when I started, I had an idea of what would happen. The bomb. The government reaction. That sort of thing. But, I let the characters tell me their reaction. I did my best not to force the characters into situations, just for drama or action purposes. The external forces were pretty much mapped out. But, the character reactions, I tried to be as honest and accurate to the characters as possible.

Interviewer: So, you didn’t outline the novel beforehand?

Author: Yes and no. I outlined the dates and when the external, non-character moments were to happen. But, besides that. Not much outlining.

Interviewer: Why write it in the first-person?

Author: Well, since this was my first novel, I wanted to constrain myself. This story could spiral out of control if it was in third-person and jumped around to multiple characters. Also, I like the intimacy of the first-person. One of my favorite novels is War of the Worlds, which is told in the first-person and was a huge influence.

Interviewer: Interesting. You like War of the Worlds?

Author: You don’t?

Interviewer: I only saw the movie.

Author: Which one, the fifties one or Tom Cruise?

Interviewer: Tom Cruise.

Author: That explains it.

Interviewer: On the subject of good and bad entertainment, what do you think makes a good story?

Author: Hmm. That’s a tough one. I can only answer for myself.

Interviewer: Of course.

Author: For me, it’s a combination of characters, purpose, and honesty.

Interviewer: Can you elaborate?

Author: Maybe. Let me see. Well, most novels, movies, plays and any other type of fiction are a combination of the following elements: Setting, Characters, Plot, Theme/Story and Prose. Prose is another way to say; how is the story told? And when you are writing or making a film, or producing a play or whatever it is you are doing. You have to prioritize these elements. Now, if you are a genius and can knock all of them out of the ballpark, more power to you. But, as the mere mortal that I am, I need to concentrate on the elements that mean the most to me while telling the story. So, for my novel, I focused on Characters, Theme/Story, Plot, Prose and then Setting. In that order. And that is where the honesty comes in. You have to be honest with yourself when creating. What means the most to you? What do you like? Now, if someone else wrote this exact same story. They may have: Plot, Setting, Characters, Prose and Theme/Story, in that order. Which would create a completely different novel. In fact, if you look up post-apocalyptic novels on Amazon you will see hundreds of different novels with a similar story, yet are vastly different. At least, I hope mine is different.

Interviewer’s eyes are closed, his head hangs low, and a brazen snore reverberates the plastic table. Author bangs his hand on the table.

Author: Did you get any of that?

Interviewer (rubbing his eyes): Sure. Got it all. So what are you currently working on?

Author: I am working on a short story, or novella, or novel. I haven’t decided yet. I will see where it takes me. Tentatively titled: A Man. A Dog. An Apocalypse.

Interviewer: Another apocalypse novel?

Author: Yes.

Interviewer: Any relation to The Ending is Everything?

Author: Yes. In television terms it would’ve been the B or C story.

The Interviewers head bobs down to his chin and his eyes close.

Author: You need a nap?

Interviewer: No. I’m fine.

Author: Is that it?

Interviewer: That’s it.

 

The Ending is Everything

June 19, 2017

Book_Cover_E_Book.jpg-189x300 The Ending is Everything Books Featured My Fiction Novels

The Ending is Everything (Book One of Blake’s Apocalypse Account). The year is 2024. I struggle through the days after returning from my tours of war. My mind foggy, my emotions numb.  Seeking one thing… to be left alone. The year is 2024. I struggle through the days after returning from my tours of war. My mind foggy, my emotions numb.  Seeking one thing… to be left alone. As I stared out my front window, I began to come back into focus watching that mushroom cloud recede into the horizon.  My fears vanished, my mind cleared, I could feel again.   Thoughts raced into my head.  Friends. Family. SURVIVAL.

I will let the protagonist tell you his story:
“I began writing this story, as soon as I realized the world would never be the same. Yes, I am sure there will be countless accounts of the events that took place in November, 2024. But those would relate to the leaders, governments and the prominent level of society. I wanted to write about the nobodies. Me and my friends. How we survived this event. How we were changed. The little people. So, if you are asking yourself, why should I read about some nobody, in California, and his nobody friends, and their ridiculous choices? Honesty. The version of events that will be released in the near future, may or may not be accurate. And will be colored by the choices of those in charge. If you do decide to read this, after falling into your hands, please don’t judge. We only did what we had to, to survive. – Blake Anderson”

The Ending is Everything, is now available everywhere in hardback: Click below for your favorite retailer.

 a-smile_color_btn-150x150 The Ending is Everything Books Featured My Fiction Novels JIwEgxXH-150x150 The Ending is Everything Books Featured My Fiction Novels

Also available in paperback and e-book Kindle:

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For paperback copies through my website click below.

It should also be available at your local brick and mortar bookstore. Maybe not in stock, but they should be able to order one for you.

Books I Read in 2016

January 3, 2017

Books I Read in 2016

I made a pact with myself at the beginning of last year: to read more fiction. If I was going to write fiction, I knew I had to read more. So, a goal was made to read at least two books a month. At first, I was going to write a blog post on each of the books I read, but I just didn’t have the time, if I wanted to finish my novel. I achieved the goal and read 26 books, which if you look at the page count of some these books is quite remarkable.  I went on a Stephen King marathon. I started George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy series. I even read some non-fiction.  The list below is in order of best to worst. Worst being a relative term since none of the books I read were bad.

 

  • War of The Worlds by  H.G. Welles

    • One of my favorite books. I read this in my teen years, and haven’t revisited it until earlier this year. It was better than I remembered. The first person narrative adds to the growing tension of the alien invasion. It is not a perfect book; the main characters lack of emotion is somewhat disturbing at times. “Should I find my wife? Nah, she’s fine.” But, besides that, I love this story and its execution.
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams

    • Another one of my favorites from my youth. This epic fantasy adventure about rabbits is fascinating. Richard Adams ability to create a unique, yet familiar, culture for the rabbits is a testament to Adams skill as a storyteller. The omniscient point of view is a trip down memory lane to the classic books of the past. Everything written today is either first person or third person limited.
  • IT by Stephen King

    • This novel surprised me. I had seen the early 90’s TV version, which was decent for a television mini-series.  But, the book was something else entirely. Scary and imaginative, IT is a remarkable achievement. The one thing I was not expecting, was the wonderful characters. Following this sad story, through the characters eyes and views, Stephen King weaves the story, and I loved every word of its 1000+ pages.
  • The Stand by Stephen King

    • Up until this year, I had not read a Stephen King novel. Why? I couldn’t tell you. Maybe, in the back of my mind, I was some literature snob, but I don’t think that was the case. The Stand was the book I wanted to read of his, but I just never got around to it until this year. An epic, post-apocalyptic novel of good vs. evil. How could one not like this book? The ending may have been anti-climatic, but the characters more than made up for the execution of the plot. Another book, I am glad I finally got around to.
  • 1984 by George Orwell

    • Another Dystopian novel. In fact, it is considered the greatest dystopian story. While I would not agree with that sentiment, I prefer Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and it is a fascinating look into the oppressive, Big Brother world. This story is so ingrained in our culture even though I have never read it; it felt like I had.
  • Amusing Ourselves To Death by Neil Postman

    • I could not have picked a more relevant time to read this non-fiction book. This publication considers how a medium can influence the message. While it is about how Television has degraded our consumption of news and political debate, it can easily be applied to our modern world of social media. I was impressed with his Information-action ratio, especially in today’s world where we receive more information than ever. “The tie between information and action has been severed. Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one’s status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don’t know what to do with it.”
  • Game Of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

    • Another pact I made with myself, was to watch the HBO series Game of Thrones before I read the books. I wanted to view the show as a separate entity from the books and judge it on its own merits. But, now that the show has passed the books, I figured it was time to read the epic fantasy novels by Mr. Martin. I was not disappointed, and now, once I finish the books I can go back and watch the show with new information. The first season of the TV series is remarkably faithful to the first book. Some of the tension is missing, since I know what happens, at least on a large scale, I still plowed through the book quickly. I was surprised at how well written and character driven the books were.
  • The Shining by Stephen King

    • There is a grand controversy among fans of the novel and fans of the movie when it comes to The Shining. I love both separately. The movie and book have different motivations and purposes. I think the book does a better job with character and story than the film. The film is a meditation on disturbing, not only the characters but the audience through imagery. The book made me care about the characters in such a way I never achieved while watching the film.
  • Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

    • You can read my full review here.
  • On Writing by Stephen King

    • I have consumed many ‘How to’ writing books. On Writing by Stephen King is probably my favorite.
  • The Leftovers by Tom Perrota

    • You can read my full review here.
  • Lost Stars by Claudia Gray

    • You can read my full review here.
  • The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

    • The epic conclusion to Justin Cronin’s unique vampire trilogy.  This book stuck with me after I finished it. It is a strange and unique offering in the Vampire lore. A mix of The Stand and The Walking Dead. The only issue I have is the characters never stuck with me. I spent alot of time asking who? Maybe I need to re-read these at some point, but for now, I liked the books and this one in particular, but I am not sure if I loved them. But, as I said in another blog post, the actual test of quality is its endurance. The ability to stand the test of time.
  • A Clash Of Kings by George R.R. Martin

    • The second book in A Song of Ice and Fire. While I still enjoyed this, much like the second season of the HBO show, it just does not live up to the first book. I still liked it, but I am currently reading A Storm of Swords, and that book is fantastic, and A Clash Of Kings sets up a lot of what happens in that book.
  • Finders Keepers Stephen King

    • Book two of Stephen King’s The Bill Hodges trilogy, is loosely affiliated with the other two books in the trilogy. It is my favorite of the three. An enjoyable literary thriller.
  • End Of Watch by Stephen King

    • Book three of Stephen King’s The Bill Hodges trilogy, is a fantastic conclusion to the trilogy. While the other two books were straight thrillers, this one introduces the supernatural into the story and fits right along with Mr. King’s fictional world, and I enjoyed the trilogy as a whole.
  • Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King

    • Book one of Stephen King’s The Bill Hodges trilogy. “The stolen Mercedes emerges from the pre-dawn fog and plows through a crowd of men and women on line for a job fair in a distressed American city. Then the lone driver backs up, charges again, and speeds off, leaving eight dead and more wounded. The case goes unsolved and ex-cop Bill Hodges is out of hope when he gets a letter from a man who loved the feel of death under the Mercedes’s wheels”
  • Die Trying  by Lee Child

    • My mom has most of the Jack Reacher books, so I decided to give them a shot. This is the second one I read, and I enjoyed this one better than the first book. These are fast paced, quick books to read. Like a CBS television show. Jack Reacher in the books is far more interesting than Tom Cruise in the movies.
  • Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

    • The long-awaited sequel to The Shining. Danny Torrance is now all grown up and not in a good place. Can you blame him? This book is strange as it feels like a merging of two separate stories. One is the sequel, the other is about weird hippies who live forever and kill those who have gifts (the Shining). I liked it, but it does not live up to the original. It was nice getting to see Danny all grown up.
  • The Unforgiving Minute by Craig M. Mullaney

    • Another non-fiction book. I read this as further research for a character in my novel.  “West Point grad, Rhodes scholar, Airborne Ranger, and U. S. Army Captain Craig Mullaney recounts his unparalleled education and the hard lessons that only war can teach. While stationed in Afghanistan, a deadly firefight with al-Qaeda leads to the loss of one of his soldiers. Years later, after that excruciating experience, he returns to the United States to teach future officers at the Naval Academy. Written with unflinching honesty, this is an unforgettable portrait of a young soldier grappling with the weight of war while coming to terms with what it means to be a man.”
  • Bloodline by Claudia Gray

    • The second Star Wars book by Claudia Gray that I read. This one takes place ten to fifteen years after Jedi and six years before The Force Awakens. It centers on Princess Leia Organa as she serves as a member of the Galactic Senate of the New Republic. Throughout the novel, Princess Leia contends with different threats to the Republic, both internal and external, in a series of events that ultimately leads to the formation of the Resistance that appeared in The Force Awakens.  I liked this book, and if you are a Star Wars fan, its nice to get some information on the establishment of the political reality that is missing in Episode Seven.
  • Killing Floor by Lee Child

    • The first Jack Reacher book. A fun read and introduces the reader to Reacher and his world.
  • Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

    • You can read my thoughts here.
  • The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey

    • I loved the first act of this novel. The rest? Not so much. A zombie novel, that tries something different but ends up in the exact place you would expect. There was a movie made that I am curious to see.
  • Harry Potter and The Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

    • Disappointing.
  • Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

    • Even more disappointing.

On “Sweet Tooth” By Ian McEwan

November 30, 2016

Ian_McEwan_Sweet_Tooth-300x300 On "Sweet Tooth" By Ian McEwan Books “Sweet Tooth” is a novel written by Ian McEwan about a young woman who gets pulled into the world of MI-5. Everything is not what it seems.

Sweet Tooth

Reading a novel by Ian McEwan, while writing the first draft of your debut novel, is not the smartest thing an author can do. Ian McEwan is one of the great modern writers. He can write a sentence like nobody else. He crafts a story that builds on the words to manipulate and imprint on the reader’s mind. I have read two other novels by Mr. McEwan, Atonement and Saturday. While I respected Atonement, I did not like it. I loved Saturday. Sweet Tooth falls somewhere in between.

Sweet Tooth is about Serena, a young girl going to Cambridge who has an affair with a professor and in doing so attracts the attention of MI-5, with whom the professor was working for. Serena is an avid reader of books. Not the classics or the highly literary. She likes the pulp romances. The simple stories of people falling in love. She also hates communism and the bohemian aspects of the 70s. A perfect candidate for a special project called “Sweet Tooth,” with its mission to encourage authors to write anti-communists novels. This, of course, is a terrible idea and doesn’t go as planned as Serena falls in love with the young writer she is assigned to.

This novel was surprisingly funny, poignant and well-executed. The story is intriguing and pulls you in from the first few pages. I wouldn’t consider it a page-turner, but it is as close as you are going to get from a literary writer like Ian McEwan. But, from the beginning, something felt off about the character of Serena. There was a distance to they way McEwan presented her. This is a first-person novel, told from her point of view. But, the way she spoke and wrote about herself felt as if she was being seen from a distance. She felt cold and unfeeling. Yet her actions in the story showed a vibrant young woman with definite opinions about herself and the world around her. This was going to be my biggest complaint about the novel. While reading, I begin to think suspect something about the writing and I kept thinking, what if? No, Mr. McEwan wouldn’t do that. He did. At the very end. I will not spoil it, but it changed everything that came before.

The question then becomes, if I didn’t enjoy the main protagonist until the end, which re-configured my view of the character as a whole. Does that mean I enjoyed this book or not? Yes and no. I liked it. I will need to read it again, at some point. If you are into challenging books, I would definitely give this one a look. Maybe I didn’t love it, but it sure as hell left an impression

Have you read “Sweet Tooth”? What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.


On “The Leftovers” by Tom Perrotta

April 24, 2016

Featured_The_Leftovers_Book-300x300 On "The Leftovers" by Tom Perrotta Books “The Leftovers” is a novel written by Tom Perrotta about the Rapture. Except it’s not about the Rapture. It’s really about the human response to an unexplainable tragedy.

The Leftovers

To be honest, I came to this book, after absolutely loving the HBO series, created by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrota, which I consider the best television show on the air. So, going into this novel, I was carrying unreasonable expectations. While the story did not quite live up to those expectations, I did enjoy this book.

Summary from the Publisher: “What if―whoosh, right now, with no explanation―a number of us simply vanished? Would some of us collapse? Would others of us go on, one foot in front of the other, as we did before the world turned upside down?

That’s what the bewildered citizens of Mapleton, who lost many of their neighbors, friends and lovers in the event known as the Sudden Departure, have to figure out. Because nothing has been the same since it happened―not marriages, not friendships, not even the relationships between parents and children.”

While this appears to be a high concept, premise heavy, story, it’s a very subtle, intimate, portrayal of grief. The main character, Kevin, has to deal with his daughter, who is a teenager and does teenager things, which are enhanced thanks to the existential crises this event presents. His wife, who left him to join a new cult, called “The Guilty Remnant” who believe it’s their mission to remind everyone, every day, of the people that were lost. His estranged son disappeared and is now living with a different cult, a group that worships at the altar of Holy Wayne. Kevin, not only has to deal with his fractured family but as mayor, the whole town of Mapleton.

What makes this story work is Tom Perrota’s ability to balance grief with humor. He does an excellent job of displaying the absurdity of trying to deal with a global event, where people just disappear. No explanation. Instead of a huge government investigation and fast paced plot, he concentrates on the intimate lives of the citizens in Mapleton.

I would recommend ‘The Leftovers’ to anyone who prefers the contemplative and absurdity of tragedy, over the bombastic, generic and plot-heavy story that this premise entails. I know I do.

 

Have you read “The Leftovers”? What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading.