Monthly Archives: February 2019

What’s the book about?

Today I was catching up on blogs that I try to read regularly, and one of those is my friend Steven M. Moore’s blog. On February 14th, Steve wrote a blog entry titled “Experimentation.” In that entry Steve writes this:

” Writers should never stop experimenting. I don’t mean silliness like writing a crime story in reverse (Deaver) or a mystery where the ending comes first (Garcia Marquez). Or a horror story containing a monstrous clown who eats people (King)—OK, maybe that was fresh and new at the time, and played off on some people’s clown phobias. No, I just mean telling a story in a new way with new characters or old ones in new situations.

I agree with everything Steve says, except where he characterizes Stephen King’s IT as a story about a clown who eats people. I thought it was about much more. It was about Bill Denbrough confronting his college English professor and saying that not every story has to have a deep or hidden agenda or meaning; that sometimes a story can just be a good story. I think that’s an important theme in King’s writing in general. He is a storyteller; he tells scary tales without worrying about deeper meanings all the time.

It was also about the interaction of a group of children who have to overcome their own fears and limitations and preprogrammed reactions to defeat this monster which first manifests as a clown (Pennywise) and later as something else entirely. It was about those same people, grown up and with all the baggage that being an adult brings with it, reuniting to once again fight the monster that, by adult standards, can’t exist. I don’t think King starts with the premise that he’s going to write a story about a clown eating people; rather, he starts with the idea that he’s going to write a story about this group of kids who fight something that adults can’t and won’t believe in.

His post made me think of what I was writing about. I’ve started with the “monster” in a bunch of my stories. It was a living cave in THE CAVE. It was a voyeur and serial rapist terrorizing guests without them really being aware of it (you’ll have to read it if you want to find out how that’s possible) in THE INN, and it was a hellish plane of existence that is powered by human suffering in RECIPROCAL EVIL.

But in all those stories, it’s the people I’m writing about that I’m really interested in. If I could just write about them without the scary stuff and the drama, I’d be happy, but what sort of story would that be?

Recently I’ve been writing four different stories. One started with the idea that the moon might be knocked out of its orbit and come crashing into the Earth. But what’s the terror in that? If it happened, the real interesting story is in how people react to that. Now being the writer that I am, it’s a real horror story, even featuring a werewolf. And bad people. The bad people are my standard go-to villains; the werewolf is a bit of a stretch for me, and that’s a good thing.

I’m also writing about the vampires I wrote about in The Striker Files. I finished one story, and am writing a second currently taking place in Paris, France. (Hope I can pull that one off.) Again, it’s about the people. I had to rewrite because I was forcing the people I was interested in into the story with no real reason for them being there. Now I’m on track, I hope.

The space opera I’m writing isn’t far enough along to know what it’s going to end up being about entirely beyond the grand idea, but the last thing is a post-apocalyptic thing where only children are left. It’s set in four separate midwestern locations, and it’s all about the people and how they react to this surprising tragedy that they really don’t understand and aren’t really equipped to cope with.

My point is that a good story is rarely about something as simple as a clown eating people (sorry, Steve, just using your blog quote to sort of drive my post, even though it really doesn’t have anything to do with your point in that post). It’s usually about the characters, and if you can’t see yourself in one or more of those characters, it probably fails.

*****

PS. Go take a look at Steve’s blog. Not only is he an excellent novelist, he writes a very entertaining and informative blog filled with reviews and thoughts and other interesting information.

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Atlas Shrugged Redux – FIRESTAR

(I wrote this blog post in August of 2006 and am reposting here.)

Over two decades ago I read a thought-provoking book – ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand. It’s a book which often seems to elicit passionate responses. If you agree with the points Rand makes, you love it, and probably most of her other stuff (though I haven’t read much else by her myself). If you disagree, well, you find tons of areas to pick away at it, some of it against the author herself, from what I’ve read.

I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the book before I read it. I had heard OF it, of course, but didn’t really know what it was about. What I read was a book about producers and consumers. People who create wealth and people who live off that wealth. I thought it had applications to the time frame in which I read it (early or mid 1990’s) and all the discussion about welfare reform, and also discussion about the tax code. Ronald Reagan and his guard going out, Bill Clinton coming in.

I found myself skimming the book, because of the bad prose and preachiness of parts of it, but I remember thinking that the first chapters set up an intriguing situation with the disappearance of certain influential and intelligent, productive members of society. But I read it to the end, and I still recall what I took away from the story back then. Mostly it said (to me) that a nation shouldn’t penalize its producers for producing. That makes a certain amount of sense on the face of it. There was also an element of what if large amounts of people “took their balls and went home?” In the book there is a backlash to having the fruits of their labor taken from them to support those who won’t (not can’t, but WON’T) work to produce fruits of their own. So those producers get mad and take their balls and leave. Thought provoking concept, if nothing else.

In FIRESTAR, Michael Flynn approaches the near future (the book was written in 1996, so most of this book’s future is already here) with optimism and pessimism. One rich woman, Mariesa Van Huyten (shades of John Galt, perhaps?) is attempting to save the world from itself. She is doing this by contracting, through her corporation’s Mentor subsidiary, to educate the youth of America in select school districts, with the goal of producing quality individuals for tomorrow’s work force. She is also doing it by starting her own space program in Brazil and attempting to develop a space vehicle which can launch itself like an airplane and return to Earth. This in the name of profits, but also because Van Huyten believes that dangers are coming from outer space, likely in the form of some asteroid or another.

In Flynn’s vision, there is no lack of competence on the part of the youth, only a lack of motivation, enthusiasm, and anticipation of a good future for themselves and the world. They are too cynical, too self-absorbed, and too understimulated. All that they need, in this world, is better schools and better teachers. Oh, there is a nod to their social situation with the subplot about a young gang member who can’t break out of his culture, and a nod to their home situations with a subplot about a budding poet who must overcome her mother’s attitudes about school and successful people. But mostly it’s about putting the kids in an environment where they CAN succeed. And of course, most of them do.

As far as the space program goes, there is the expected resistance from other corporations, the general public, and our own government and the tons of regulations they put upon up and coming businesses and ideas, aimed at stifling them and bogging them down and putting them out of business. In one part, Flynn details an account of a landfill which by law must be capped and sealed, but now has become home to ducks and geese and as such is now designated a wetlands. So the corporation, which is ready to cap and seal it, is prevented from doing so by one arm of government while another fines them for not doing it. Overstatement of stupidity, perhaps, but we’ve all heard these types of stories.

It wasn’t such a well-told story, with characters that took a while to really care about and get to know, and plots that seem to take forever to come to fruition, lots of loose ends left hanging, and some odd finishes to others storylines. But it had a very broad scope, taking in years, multiple settings, several plotlines, and a myriad of ideas. This makes it harder, in my opinion, to tell such a story with the same panache as a more focused tale.

The idea that one person can make such a huge difference is intriguing but not terribly believable in today’s society, a decade after Flynn wrote the book. Like John Galt, Mariesa Van Huyten is a mover and a shaker, but its hard to accept that all of her premises would come off so smoothly and be so correct. Only a few miscalculations make it into the story and they end up not being terribly important. Unlike John Galt, however, Mariesa is human enough that her work DOES affect her personal life and something suffers.

I could go on picking away similarities and differences between the characters and their motivations, but I’ll just say that while this was a hard book to finish, it was worth reading in the end, and I sort of wish I hadn’t left it sitting unattended on my shelf for so many years since I bought it off the bargain shelves.