Annie Wilkes Had a Point

IMG_8818I love a good antihero, but don’t normally sympathize with villains. And Annie Wilkes (of Misery, by Stephen King) really was a villain. After all, she captured an injured man and refused to release him, making him write stories for her, then injured him when he made her mad. That’s firmly in villain territory.

One of the things that made her really mad was “cheating.” You know, when an author promises one thing and delivers another? Or when the author says one thing happened, but then backtracks and says “It was all a dream” or “It didn’t really happen that way.” I mean, when those things happen, I kind of understand her desire to break the ankles of the offending author.*

(*I’m not actually advocating violence here. Please don’t go out and break anyone’s ankles.)

I recently read a book that I love and hate at the same time. It was good, and it paid off all the promises the author made. But the ending was sad. I don’t want to like the ending. I want to demand the author take it back. Kind of like when JK Rowling went on a killing spree in Book 7.

But it was the right ending.

The author gave the book the ending it deserved. No flinching (well, probably flinching), no cheating. It hurt. I mean, if it hurt me, it probably hurt the author more.

It’s just that I was so emotionally invested in the book. I wanted everyone to be okay, to have a magical happily ever after. And while a lot of books do end like that, not all of them do. And not all of them should.

As a writer, I wand to give all of my characters happy endings. After all, technically, I can. I could write a happy ending for everyone because I’m the one typing the words on a page.

But stories are a living thing. The good ones breathe life into the reader, and the reader breathes back. If a writer forces the story into a corner, it will do what it’s told, but it won’t breathe magic anymore. Maybe in the moment, the ending will be satisfying, but ultimately forgettable. Because if the ending isn’t real, right, alive, then there’s no point to writing it.

And sometimes real, right, and alive hurt.

The logical part of me knows this. But the emotional part? Well… I think I’m going to go reread Misery.

Are there any books that ended in a way that felt right, but still hurt? Or any books you’re still mad about because they “cheated?”

(On a side note, for those of you who follow my blog, I’m going to try switching to a Monday/ Friday update schedule. Sunday/ Wednesday just wasn’t working for me.)

 

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C is for Charlie

Hello, and welcome to Blogging A to Z 2017! Thanks for stopping by.

My theme this month is 26 of the Best Characters in Fiction.

IMG_8313Charlene “Charlie” McGee is a little girl with pyrokinesis in Stephen King’s Firestarter.

I read this book for the first time as a teenager, and it’s still one of my favorite Stephen King books.

First off, I love the idea of a kid who can create fire with her mind. Maybe one or two people have accused me of being a bit of a pyromaniac. I can’t help it! I love candles and fires.

Second, I love child protagonists in horror. Kids don’t react the same way as adults, and it’s interesting to see what they do. They’re more likely to believe in the unbelievable. Plus, people often underestimate kids. This kid is a force to be reckoned with.

Third, I almost never do this, but I associate her with the movie version of her, a young Drew Barrymore. I love Drew Barrymore, and I have to admit that probably is part of the reason for my love of this book. When I picture the character, I picture her.

Charlie is one of those characters who’s stayed with me. She was put in a bunch of horrible situations, but she kept moving forward, and she survived. At any point, she could have just quit, but that never happened. I’m sure the adult version of her would have scars, but I’d like to think she would still be doing her best to live and love.

Stephen King could have written her as unfeeling or numb to her situation, but even at the end of the book, she’s still got a wealth of empathy, even if she’s no longer emotionally a little girl anymore.

Are you a horror fan? If so, what’s your Stephen King book?

Can I Really Say I “Read” An Audiobook?

img_7913Up until the last few years, I never listened to audiobooks. There are a lot of reasons that don’t have anything to do with snobbery: I retain more when I read vs. listen, my mind wanders more when I listen, it’s harder to go back and re-read passages, I can’t highlight, etc.

But the bigger reason, for me, is that listening to audiobooks seemed kind of passive to me. I don’t love TV, primarily because I know that my brain isn’t doing much if I’m just consuming a show. I worried that audiobooks had that same passivity.

It’s silly, because if I think about it, listening to audiobooks is actually harder work for me than reading a book the traditional way. It requires me to direct my concentration in a way that’s much more automatic for me in traditional reading.

I decided to look it up, to see how audiobooks are consumed by the brain. Rather than wondering and worrying about it, I looked to the science. Here’s a good article on it, but the bottom line is that your brain sees them essentially the same way.

I’m not the only one asking this question. When I did an internet search about audiobooks vs. traditional reading, apparently many people struggle with this issue.

I keep a list of how many books I read each year, and two or three of them for the past two years have been audiobooks. I’ve actually struggled with whether or not to “count” them.

What’s the point of reading a book? For me, it’s about enjoyment. In some cases, it’s about learning. It’s also to synthesize information and be able to discuss it meaningfully with others. I can do all that with audiobooks.

I recently reread On Writing, by Stephen King. (Great book, incidentally, even if you’re not a writer.) He reads tons of books, and casually mentioned that he also reads audiobooks. If it’s good enough for Stephen King, it’s good enough for me. Once I gave myself permission to look at audiobooks as reading, I started seeing chunks in my day where I could be reading: doing yard work, in the car, cleaning up the kitchen… the list goes on.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Where do you stand on audiobooks vs. traditional books?

October Reading Wrap-Up

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In October, I read a bunch of new books.  I’ve recently gotten back into the Longmire series of books, and am trying to read them all.  I love being the annoying person who points out the differences between books and movies (or, in this case, TV). I actually enjoyed everything I read last month, which is always a nice surprise.

  1.  For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn.  This was a really good self-help type book for insight into the male mind.  I picked it up because it was recommended reading on how to write men in stories better, but I see that it also applies to the men I know.
  2. I Was Here, by Gayle Forman.  I loved If I Stay, and the follow up, Where She Went, so I have no idea why I hadn’t read another book by her before this.  I went looking for fiction to read on suicide, and this was a good one.  It drew me in from the start, and did a decent job of showing the devastating effects on family and friends.
  3. You, by Caroline Kepnes.  This one was recommended by my book club.  Funny story: because of who sent it to me, and the title, I thought it was a self-help book, or something like that.  Yeah, it’s definitely not.  It’s actually a thriller about a stalker and his victim.  Brutal, fascinating, and disturbing, it’s pretty much everything I want in a book.
  4. The Shining, by Stephen King.  When I read You, I found out that The Shining has a sequel: Doctor Sleep.  Apparently I’ve been living under a rock, because I had no idea.  None.  It’s been years since I read The Shining, and since it’s one of my favorite King books, I wanted to reread it and be fresh from it when I read the sequel.  It’s still one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read.
  5. Doctor Sleep, by Stephen King.  I was really skeptical that a sequel could be as good as The Shining, but this one was definitely worthy.  I’m sure it could work as a standalone book, but I was glad I had just re-read The Shining, as there were a lot of references to it.
  6. Death Without Company (Longmire #2) & Kindness Goes Unpunished (Longmire #3) & Another Man’s Moccasins (Longmire #4), by Craig Johnson.  I’m a fan of crime novels, and I love the Longmire shows on Netflix.  These are quite different from the TV show, but they’re good in their own way.  Walt is a pretty similar character in both the books and the show.  I actually like Henry a bit more in the books.  He’s a more active character, and frequently involved in Walt’s escapades.
  7. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, by Holly Black.  This is a vampire book, but not a typical one.  It’s what would happen if vampires were shown to be real, in the modern age.  One girl wakes up to a massacre that happened at a party, and it begins with her saving her ex-boyfriend (who’s been bitten), and saving a vampire who helps her.  I like books where vampires aren’t portrayed as sexy teddy bears who just happen to like blood.
  8. The Liar, by Nora Roberts.  I’m a sucker for Nora Roberts books, mostly because I know that she usually mixes romance with other things, like suspense.  This one has it all: a great love story, murder, secrets, conspiracy, and an underdog who comes out ahead.

I liked every book I read this month, and I can’t always say that.  I got most of them on my Kindle, through the library.

What did you read this month?

Q is for Quitters Inc.

Unknown-4Quitters Inc, is a short story by Stephen King that appears in Night Shift.

I’ve always loved short stories.  I’m a book addict, and if I really like a book, I have a hard time doing anything else until it’s done.  Luckily for me, I have an understanding husband.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve snapped at him, “Are you doing talking yet?” so that I can go back to reading.

Short stories work really well for me in that I can stop reading at the end of each story, thereby allowing me to be a sane-ish and productive human being.

This story has stuck with me for many years, and I’m not sure why.  That’s the hallmark of good writing though, right?  When something sticks with you over time.

When I was looking for books that influenced me, I couldn’t come up with anything for “Q.”  I almost went with an author, but while I do have a “Q” writer I read, I would have had to stretch the truth to say she influenced me.

This story popped into my head, and when I did an online search for it, I found out it was written by Stephen King.  I’m sure I read Night Shift in its entirety, but I don’t remember any of the other stories.

The story is about a man who wants to quit smoking, and he goes to Quitters Inc, where they take extreme measures to guarantee his success.  What made this story creepy is that it’s such a mundane thing: quitting a bad habit.  Habits are difficult to break, and this guy agrees to some awful stuff to help him break it.

Who wouldn’t at least consider it?  If someone guaranteed that they could break your worst habit, wouldn’t you think about it?  I would.

I’m not often envious of other writers when they write an amazing story, but this is one that I wish I’d written.  I love the idea, the execution, and that it’s so powerful in such a short form.

This is one of the stories that taught me that short stories can have just as big of an impact as novels.

“We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones.”

-Stephen King

O is for On Writing

Unknown-2On Writing, by Stephen King, is probably one of the best books on writing that any writer can read.

It doesn’t matter if you like Stephen King’s books; what he has to say about writing applies to everyone.

The book is part memoir, part writing instructions.  I like much of what Stephen King writes (I’m a horror fan, after all), but I think that this book would appeal to people who aren’t fans of horror.  He talks, at times, about where different ideas for his books came from, which is interesting.

Some of what he talks about is basic (like avoiding adverbs) and some is more advanced, but all of it is a good reminder of how to write better.

This was the first writing book I read.  I was doing a lot of reading online, trying to find advice on how to improve my writing.  There’s so much writing, and while a lot of the advice is repetitive (like avoiding adverbs), some of it ends up being contradictory.  No one can deny that Stephen King is a successful author, so he must know something about what he’s talking about.

I think what struck me most about it was how simple some of the advice was, but what a huge impact it made on me.  Not only was it a good book about writing, but it was also entertaining and encouraging.

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

– Stephen King

What I Read Last Week

Bazaar of Bad Dreams by Stephen King- I loved Stephen King books as a kid, but I stopped reading them because they disturbed me too much.  While I love horror, it doesn’t usually scare me.  King seems to have a direct line to my nightmares.

Recently, I’ve been reading more horror because I’m back to my roots, integrating horror back into my writing.  So if I’m going to read it, I should read what scares me.

Bazaar of Bad Dreams is an anthology of short stories.  King introduces each of his stories with what gave him the idea or some other related tidbit.  The introductions were almost as interesting to me as the stories themselves.  Some of them were funny, some were disturbing, but they all had that special sauce a la King.

I enjoyed this book as both a reader and as a writer.  As a writer, I deconstructed the stories and gleefully declared, “Ohmygosh, he used that technique there!”  As a reader, the integration is seamless, and you wouldn’t know unless you were looking at it.  Stephen King really is a master at his craft.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes– I couldn’t put this book down while I was reading it.  As with all of her books that I’ve read so far, this one is strangely addictive.  I couldn’t tell you what I liked so much about it now that I’m reflecting on it.

I’ll probably read it again at some point to see if I can find the magic, but the thing about magic is that if you can see it, it disappears.  So I’ll just say this: if you’re looking for a fun romance novel to read on a snowy or rainy day, I’d highly recommend this one.  It just screams for you to curl up under some covers with coffee or tea (and a fireplace, if you have it), and read the day away.

So far this year, I’ve read all books I’ve liked.  It’s a nice way to start the year.  Let’s see if I can keep on like this!

Have you read either of these books?  What did you think?