Book Review: “On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft”

onwriting

On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft is Stephen King’s foray into sharing his knowledge of writing and encouraging the next generation of writers with what he has learned, the mistakes he has made, and the tips and tricks he’s picked up throughout his life.

Let me start this review by stating that I am not personally a fan of craft books. I’ve read a few of them, and I’ve found, overwhelmingly, that they’re full of stuck-up, preachy “advice” about how you NEVER do this, and ALWAYS do that. Those other books I’ve read were full of demands from snobbish writers who believe that one can only become a writer if one follows a set, precise roster of dedicated rules that must never change. This, of course, is complete bullshit, and Stephen King knows it.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a tad.

Despite my dislike of the previous craft books I’ve read, I decided to pick up On Writing because I’d heard a ton of good things from fellow writers. Additionally, King is one of my favorite writers of all time, so I hoped that he would have something interesting to tell me.

I was surprised to find that the book does not jump right into writing rules and well-meaning advice, but actually begins with a bit of an autobiography. In chapter-like chunks of varying sizes, King tells us about his life growing up and how these moments, in one way or another, created the writer we know today. This section takes up nearly half of the overall book, and I’ll admit that if I’d know this before buying the book, I might have reconsidered. I was looking for writing advice, after all, not a life story. However, having been glued to the pages throughout the entirety of the autobiographical section, I now implore any prospective readers to not let this deter you. To be perfectly blunt, reading about King’s life, different trials and tribulations, and all the little moments that made him the writer he is, was infinitely more interesting and useful information than any of the tripe in the other craft books I’ve read. There were little, simple lessons he learned from people he’s worked with, family moments that changed how he looked at things, personal struggles he had to deal with and how his writing was affected as a result, and much more. It reads a bit like a stream-of-consciousness project, with King occasionally wandering off on tangents that seem totally irrelevant, but everything manages to come together in sweeps and waves, and eventually we come out on the other end having knowledge we might never have otherwise gained unless we happened to live a very similar life (which, obviously, is unlikely).

The second half of the book is where the specific advice comes into play, though this section still isn’t drawn out in the way other craft books are. While King is now giving his opinions on what we need in our writing “tool box”, what steps we should take when deciding to become a writer, and what changes we should make in our lives to facilitate that decision, it’s all still written in a kind of autobiographical way. King explains his advice by comparing it to his own life and his own experiences, and in my opinion that makes it all seem much more worth while, somehow. There’s something more convincing about advice garnered through personal experience as compared to advice that came from a university course the giver took from a professor who’s never written an actual book in his/her life.

The advice itself varies from the simple and obvious (understand your language, your grammar, etc), to the more involved (adverbs have their place but should be used very sparingly), to the “yeah that makes sense” (read a lot; TV is the devil). I was pleasantly surprised, myself, to realize that the overwhelming majority of what King was saying made perfect sense to me. Instead of screaming at me that you can NEVER do this in a book, and if you don’t do THIS and THIS you’re a worthless amateur, King gives a ton of actual, meaningful, reasonable advice. One of the lines from the book that really resonated with me in particular was, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” In this King is so right, and this is something I myself have been neglecting in a terrible way. So I’ve recommitted myself to reading more – as much as possible, in fact – and if this is the only thing I’ve gained from reading On Writing (it isn’t) then I’ll happily say that the book was well worth reading.

Something else that I have to mention, though: what I loved most about this book is that King understands writing and writers. While so many other craft books shove lists of rules down your throat, nearly everything King offers up is a suggestion. He mentions a number of things that he personally feels are very important, hard-and-fast kinds of rules, but at the same time regularly admits that something will work for one writer but not for another. He understands that writing is fluid, changing shape depending on the container it is being poured from and into. In this way he gives us the tools, but admits that sometimes a rock can work as well as a hammer. For this reason alone, I am quite happy that I decided to purchase and read On Writing. In a world of veteran writers with their noses in the air, it was extremely refreshing to read the advice of a very successful novelist who realizes that his words may be everything to you, and may be nothing. That, in itself, is an exceptional lesson.

So would I suggest this book to the fledgling writer? Of course! In fact, I would suggest it even to the established writer, because the fact is that we all have something to learn, and sometimes the lesson is to relax a bit and figure out what works for you.


Want to check out On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft for yourself? Click right here to order!
Already read it? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section below!

Advertisements

Book Review: “The Brothers Lionheart” [Spoiler-Free]

brotherslionheart

I have to start this review out by admitting that, prior to a gift from a friend to my daughter, I’d never heard of The Brothers Lionheart. Author Astrid Lingdren – of Pippi Longstocking fame – wrote it in the early 1970’s, so I rather have no excuse other than that it never passed my desk before recently.

The book was sent, as I mentioned, to my daughter from a friend of ours, and looked like a lovely little innocent tale that we could enjoy together during our nightly bedtime reading sessions, so it was with that thought that we curled up together on the first night and I read her Chapter One.

I have to admit that, at first, I was a little taken aback and curious as to how my daughter would take the take, as the first chapter (don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, it’s literally one of the first things that happens) describes how the main character Rusky and his older brother Jonathan die. I had no idea what the book was about going in, but I can honestly admit that I didn’t expect it to begin with two young boys dying, one of them from an accident, and the other from terrible sickness.

It does, however, get a little lighter and much more intriguing from there. Our narrator, Rusky, is the second to pass, and follows his brother into an afterlife-world known as Nangijala. It is supposed, according to Jonathan, to be a peaceful, wonderful place where people can live their days joyfully and simply, and at first it seems to be just that. However, it transpires that there are terrible things going on in the valley on the other side of the mountains, where a horrible ruler has made life a living hell for the residents there.

The rest of the story follows the journey of the two brothers as they seek to liberate Nangijala from it’s oppressor, all of it seen through the eyes of a young boy who, in his prior life, had seen next to nothing of the world as he lay forever in his sickbed.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t sure, with that first chapter, how my daughter of seven was going to take the story. On top of the book opening with double-death, it also has a lovely, flowery prose that is quite nice, but also a bit olden days, for lack of a better description, so I didn’t know if my modern-day child would really connect with it. I needn’t have worried, because she was hooked from start to finish, asking questions at the end of chapters, and gasping suddenly at important moments when I wasn’t even entirely certain she’d been listening. She was especially surprised and concerned when Katla first showed up, but if you want to know who Katla is you’ll have to read the book for yourself!

But what were my feelings on the book? All in all I have to say that I enjoyed it quite immensely. It was an odd idea to me from the get-go, having the two child characters perish in order to travel to their fantasy adventure land, but it turned out to be a truly wonderful one. It’s a lovely little tale that effectively centers around Rusky learning about himself after spending his entire childhood confined to a bed. The characters are the kind you can get attached to, but are also somehow depicted so that they feel almost like ghosts (ironically) whom are there and are definitely part of the story, and yet somehow don’t seem that important. It’s a difficult idea to get across, but it really comes down to the fact that all that really matters is Rusky and Jonathan, especially Rusky. You want to know what’s going to happen, you want to see him grow and come into himself, and you want him to be the hero that you’re sure he’s meant, somehow, to be. By the end of the story you’re a bit exhausted because of the emotional rollercoaster you’ve gone on with him. It’s difficult to say much more than that because, to be quite honest, it’s just the kind of story you have to read for yourself.

The ending, personally, I thought was a bit of a mixed message. I can’t explain without spoiling it, but let’s just say that I understood where Lindgren was coming from with the ending, but it also gave me a bit of a weird, “I don’t know if this is a good message” kind of feeling. I expect it seemed a little more innocent in the time it was written, but I’m certain I’m not the only one who would see the negative connotation in it today. Even so, if you’re able to close off that bit of your brain that’s cringing a little at that particular thought process and just imagine the situation as it exists in the context of the story, it’s as lovely an ending as you can imagine for the type of tale that it’s attached to.

In conclusion, I’m grateful to have read this story, and even more happy that I read it with my daughter, who immensely enjoyed following the steps of the little boy throughout his journey. A beautiful tale filled with hope and strength and courage where one cannot see such things within himself. Definitely worth a read, especially if you have children to enjoy it with.


Want to check out The Brothers Lionheart for yourself? Click right here to order!
Already read it? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section below!

Book Review: “Tomie” Complete Deluxe Edition [Spoiler-Free]

tomie

What can one say about the “Tomie” series of manga from renowned horror artist Junji Ito? Well, for starters, we can say that it is another in the list of items that prove Ito has a terrifying, terrifying mind. Don’t get me wrong! That’s a good thing, in the context of this review, assuming that you are, of course, a horror fan.

Ito’s character, Tomie, is a beautiful teenage girl who is a relentless seductress, able to bend nearly any man to her will. She is rather sick of both mind and heart, and genuinely enjoys twisting a man’s very soul in knots as she makes him long for her more and more. The twist is that although Tomie’s powers allow her to push men as far as to even commit murder, she herself is nearly always the victim.

It is a twisted tale that is told and retold again and again, different each time, as Tomie simply refuses to die no matter how brutally her lovers destroy her body.

Each “chapter” in this Complete Deluxe Edition is an individual story with new characters, new victims, new deaths, and occasionally even new information into Tomie’s powers, although some of the stories do lead into one another, with a lucky character or two managing to survive long enough to show up multiple times. The brutality is kicked off right from the opening story, but it definitely gets significantly more brutal, more grotesque, and more disturbing as the series goes on. Murder scenes are not lacking in blood and gore, and Ito does not shy away from uncomfortable subjects. In other words, this is not a series that is for the weak of stomach or the easily offended.

As with Ito’s other works, the artwork is absolutely gorgeous, even during – and possibly especially during – the most disgusting of scenes. The scripting is well-compiled, easy to read, and spine-chilling, to say the least. There is a great deal of mystery as to Tomie’s origins, the source of her powers, and so on, but little tidbits are given here and there to propel the reader forward. By the end of the series, honestly, you haven’t learned all that much, but in a way you don’t really care, because what you’ve consumed was plenty satisfying. The end of the series – without spoiling it, of course – leaves you extremely curious, perhaps wanting more, but also does have a strange feeling of finality to it that is, for lack of a better word, acceptable.

Tomie“‘s enchanting, mystifying, and horrifying allure will definitely drag you in, making you want more and more, just like her victims in the stories. As with Ito’s other stories, Uzumaki and Gyo, this is a page-turner that is extremely difficult to put down. If not for the many distractions of everyday life – as well as the desire to slow down and enjoy the beautiful artwork – I’m certain I would have breezed through the entire book in a single sitting.

If you are a fan of horror comics, and especially if you’re a fan of Asian horror, I highly recommend Ito’s “Tomie” series. It is a classic in every sense of the word, both in terms of body horror and genuine, flat-out creep-factor. I also highly recommend reading the manga first if you’re thinking about checking out any of the “Tomie” films, of which there have been several based on this amazing series.


Want to check out Tomie by Junji Ito for yourself? Click right here to order the Complete Deluxe Edition!
Already read it? Feel free to share your own thoughts in the comment section below!

An Author Honor – Being Read in a Book Club

I’ll admit that, most days, I still find it hard to consider myself a “real” author. It’s a combination of being self-published (which, despite attempts at the contrary, still makes me consider myself to be an amateur) and the fact that my sales are mind-blowingly abysmal. I shouldn’t harbor such thoughts – I wrote TWO GODDAMN BOOKS, DAMMIT, and that makes me an author! – but it’s very difficult, and I hardly think that I’m the only self-published author to feel that way, so I give myself a break.

That said, every so often something happens that really does make me feel like a “real” author, and one of those things happened throughout the month of July. You see, over at the Basement Geeks Facebook Group, two of our most active members decided to start up a “Basement Geeks Book Club”. I thought it was a great idea, and joined up right away, myself, but I wasn’t expecting what happened next, because there was a poll set up to decide which book the group would read first, and the book they chose…was Nowhere to Hide.

It wasn’t a huge book club or anything – less than ten people were actually reading – but, to be honest, it was kind of a huge deal to me. It felt wonderful, not only because they chose my book, but because I got to be a part of the process. The members discussed the chapters they’d read weekly, and I got to be there, joining in the conversation, fielding questions, and seeing what people really, truly thought. There were a few constructive criticisms, some awesome reactions, and a surprising amount of praise that all just made me feel warm and fuzzy and happy inside. My favorite part? The way everyone agreed on how I was able to really hammer them emotionally. No individual comment or review has ever made me truly feel like I’m doing something right, like I’m accomplishing what I set out to do when I imagine and reimagine my scenes over and over again.

It made me feel like I’m not only a “real” author, but also a good one. And I can’t describe how that makes me feel.

So thank you, Basement Geeks Book Club. You have no idea how great you made me feel just by sitting down to discuss a book.