Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Imperial Bedrooms - Bret Easton Ellis

A genuine literary event.

That is what it says at the bottom of the front jacket cover for this book, underneath a general description of the plot, which is this: the sequel to Less Than Zero, twenty-five years later. Clay is a screenwriter, who is interested in a girl, and he tries to get this girl a part in the new movie he's producing. Plus Blair, Julian, and Rip are back from the original.

But calling it "a genuine literary event" seems, I don't know, desperate?

And all of the praise on the back seems nice, until you realize it is for Lunar Park. Then maybe you venture over to Amazon to check the reviews to see if it will be worth the investment in a hardcover edition--and you see the reviews are scathing. And you wonder, oh great, what did I get myself into.

But I am here to tell you that you do not need to be worried--those reviews are wrong. This book is good. It may not deliver on every single level that every reader could possibly desire, but it is not a bad book. It is not poorly written, as much as amateur critics may point towards nonexistent complexity of language, poor, vague description, and meaningless run-on sentencing. It is a different sort of book in the same way that Lunar Park was. Obviously, it's not the classic that Less Than Zero is, or even up to the level of The Rules of Attraction, and of course its scope pales in comparison to American Psycho (which I haven't even read to the end) or Glamorama (which I think is the real masterpiece in his oeuvre, thus far). It's better than The Informers, and I like it better than Lunar Park, I think, though that book had moments.

Why is it so similar to Lunar Park? Because the theme is the same: paranoia. In that novel, it may be imagined, and it is played for horror. In this novel, it is not imagined, and it is played for mystery. If Lunar Park is BEE doing Stephen King, then Imperial Bedrooms is BEE doing Raymond Chandler. Aside from paranoia, and genre-hopping, Ellis pokes more fun at himself in the opening segment of the novel. In Lunar Park, it is one of the most dazzling sequences of any of his books, re-telling the history of his literary career, and the various lies and half-truths that have been told about him over the years. In Imperial Bedrooms, it is a parallel segment relating the history of Less Than Zero--except Clay is claiming that it all really happened, and none of their names were changed, and the author was someone they knew. Ellis takes advantage of the opportunity to critique the adaptation of his debut:

"In the movie I was played by an actor who actually looked more like me than the character the author portrayed in the book: I wasn't blond, I wasn't tan, and neither was the actor. I also suddenly became the movie's moral compass, spouting AA jargon, castigating everyone's drug use and trying to save Julian. ('I'll sell my car,' I warn the actor playing Julian's dealer. 'Whatever it takes.') This was slightly less true of the adaptation of Blair's character, played by a girl who actually seemed like she belonged in our group--jittery, sexually available, easily wounded. Julian became the sentimentalized version of himself, acted by a talented, sad-faced clown, who has an affair with Blair and then realizes he has to let her go because I was his best bud. 'Be good to her,' Julian tells Clay. 'She really deserves it.' The sheer hypocrisy of this scene must have made the author blanch. (7)

And then more obvious differences:

"The reason the movie dropped everything that made the novel real was because there was no way the parents who ran the studio would ever expose their children in the same black light the book did. The movie was begging for our sympathy whereas the book didn't give a shit. And attitudes about drugs and sex had shifted quickly from 1985 to 1987 (and a regime change at the studio didn't help) so the source material--surprisingly conservative despite its surface immorality--had to be reshaped. The best way to look at the movie was as modern eighties noir--the cinematography was breathtaking--and I sighed as it kept streaming forward, interested in only a few things: the new and gentle details of my parents mildly amused me, as did Blair finding her divorced father with his girlfriend on Christmas Eve instead of with a boy named Jared (Blair's father died of AIDS in 1992 while still married to Blair's mother). But the thing I remember most about that screening in October twenty years ago was the moment Julian grasped my hand that had gone numb on the armrest separating our seats. He did this because in the book Julian Wells lived but in the movie's new scenario he had to die. He had to be punished for all of his sins. That's what the movie demanded." (8)

And here is a good opportunity to talk about spoilers: many of the reviews on Amazon say they are not spoiling anything by revealing two different plot points of this novel--but they are. In the same way they're idiots for calling the book a piece of crap, they're idiots for saying they're not spoiling anything (...because you wouldn't want to waste your time anyways, etc.)

Clay is in his mid-40's, splitting time between New York and L.A., and recently returned to L.A. for the casting of his new film The Listeners. It is perhaps worth noting that this is more L.A.-centric than anything Ellis has done since Less Than Zero. The city is used in almost every paragraph of the story. Angelenos will find Ellis's choice settings appropriate for the tone of the novel, and that they add another layer of enjoyment. By page 100, it seems clear that Ellis is writing a mystery novel in the tradition of Chandler or James Cain, and the L.A. setting circa 2008 or 2009 is a wonderful update on that sixty or seventy-year-old geographically-centered story.

Most of the plot hinges around one of the girls auditioning for a part in this movie--Rain Turner--and the mystery of her former employment, ex-boyfriends, and general lifestyle. It's a bit mundane--perhaps not all that imaginative--and there is a line near the end of the novel that seems to poke fun at how cookie-cutter/predictable the plot becomes--but even with that, it is surprising enough to keep reading.

Most importantly, Ellis delivers magic with this book: in a way that none of his other books have since, he captures the pace and intensity of the prose of Less Than Zero and puts it to use in a new narrative with old characters. Towards the end, again, there seem to be a few scenes that are reminiscent of the first novel, and this has something of a disquieting effect. The big relief though is that Ellis does not mess it up. Like the Seinfeld reunion on Curb Your Enthusiasm, there can be a lot of doubt about the point of bringing back once-popular characters. And maybe there's no point to Imperial Bedrooms, but I don't see it as an opportunity to cash in on Robert Downey Jr.'s reinvigoration, or to reflect upon the passing of Michael Jackson and John Hughes and 80's nostalgia. No, it writes a new chapter in the previous book, and while its story is nowhere near as fresh and original as the first, it's still a pretty good story: tell me that a film adaptation of Imperial Bedrooms with the original actors from Less Than Zero would not be one of the coolest things ever done.

But people in Hollywood are idiots, and one of the good things about this book is the way it casually acknowledges that. To sum things up, the best thing about Imperial Bedrooms is the way the pace matches Less Than Zero. This is a short book at around 170 pages, but for nearly half of it, let's say between pages 60 and 130, I didn't want to put it down.

And it should be clear at this point why most people like to trash Ellis--you either get it or you don't. You either love him or hate him. People that trash him don't get him. People that trash him might quote the passage I am about to quote and call it a perfect example of why his writing is terrible. Of course, I am quoting it to show the opposite, how a casual epiphany can come out of a commonplace situation:

"Dr. Woolf leaves a message on my landline canceling tomorrow's session and telling me that he can't see me as a patient anymore but that he'll refer me to someone else and the next morning I drive to the building on Sawtelle and park on the fourth floor of the garage and wait for his noon session to be over because that's when he takes his lunch break and I'm listening to a song with the lyric So leave everything you know and carry only what you fear...over and over again and I'm nodding to myself while smoking cigarettes and making a list of all the things I'm not going to ask Rain about and deciding I'll accept all the false explanations she's going to give me and how that's the only plan, and then I'm remembering the person who warned me about how the world has to be a place where no one is interested in your questions and that if you're alone nothing bad can happen to you." (107)

That is all one sentence but I happen to think it is a very good one. And while I totally acknowledge that this book is not a masterpiece, that Ellis has done better, there are totally memorable moments in this novel that will exist comfortably alongside previous ones. I'd rather read Less Than Zero again (especially since my copy was lost)--because that book, more than any other book, can be viewed as a guide to writing your very own breakout novel--but Imperial Bedrooms is a nice treat. You can read it even if you haven't read Less Than Zero, but it helps.

I'm just sad that I'll probably have to wait until I am 30 to read a new book by Bret Easton Ellis. He has continued with his relative consistency, and has not done anything to make me lose any interest in his work. If I were Ellis, I would want to write a Pulitzer-worthy, six-hundred page piece de resistance for publication around my fiftieth birthday, to silence all doubters and haters, but it seems too easy. Perhaps people want to criticize Ellis for not attempting to write a masterpiece here--but he has accomplished something that many in the "industry" often fail at: he's delivered a sequel that isn't disappointing. Who knows if he is going to go back to writing longer books, or books that get mentioned as the best of the year, and who cares. He's about as commercial as you can get, as far as fiction writers go, but I don't consider him a sell-out in the least, and maybe that is what continues to impress me about him.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Closer - Dennis Cooper

We follow up one re-read with another in what will not be a continuing trend (our next item is the much-anticipated Imperial Bedrooms, referenced quite a long time ago on Flying Houses, here with Closer, what could be considered Dennis Cooper's breakout novel, published in 1989. This preceded Frisk, and later Try. They form a trilogy which can be considered his strongest work.

In the same way Ziggy is the central figure of Try, George Miles is at the center of Closer. However, the story is not as narrowly-focused, which distracts, but also allows the work to delve into a few experimental episodes that coalesce and form its own unique symmetry. There are eight relatively short chapters in 131 pages with seven narrators, or protagonists in what could be considered short stories, all of which link. This is definitely a novel, though.

John, where the novel starts, draws portraits of his classmates, and gets involved physically with them. He meets George Miles, who takes several tabs of acid every day and smokes grass in between and keeps a shrine to Disneyland in his bedroom. Sex ensues, thoughts of violence ensue, and then they end up meeting a punk who goes with them into a purportedly haunted house and then later the punk describes his predicament:

"'Hurt me,' he yelled in a hoarse voice. 'Fuck me up and I'll never forget you. I really fucking love violence. I want to tell all my friends what we did so they'll hate me or call me a fag or whatever, but fuck them. I'm not a poser like they are. I want to do everything so when I die they'll say I lived and tell bad jokes about me but who cares. I like getting crazy and you seem okay. Anyway, why not?'" (10)

The second chapter is narrated by David, who believes he is a pop star, or fantasizes about it often enough to become his fractured reality. The novel shifts its tone and voice drastically in this chapter and becomes a bit humorous, while still very dark. David is paranoid and talkative, the chapter is breezy, and it serves as a nice transition between the 1st and 3rd chapters.

The 3rd chapter is George's first chapter, and in it he describes getting asked to leave school one day, hitchhiking, getting picked up by a carpenter, more sex, going to a school dance, smoking a joint with his teacher, who is a closet case, and then later meeting Philippe. The segments with Philippe are the point at which Closer tips the obscenity scales at 10. Philippe has a particularly gross fetish that is four letters long and starts with the letter s. That is all I will say about that. But it does become an important plot point.

The next two chapters are 1st and 3rd person alternately with Cliff and Alex, who are more of the same, basically--they are friends, and they watch old scary movies together, sometimes they smoke pot together, they talk about George Miles, and how obsessed they are with him (as does everyone), and then there is always more sex. Cliff watches Philippe perform his act with George, and then later tells Alex about it, who wants to recreate it for a project in his film class. Later an accident happens.

George's second chapter comes next, and it has the probable climax of the novel in his encounter with Tom, who attempts to kill him, because that is what he understood their meeting to mean.

Philippe is the next chapter, and in it he describes the root of his perversion in relatively original prose, such as the interior-dialogue he has with himself as he tries to sleep:

"'What are you feeling, Philippe?' Tired. 'Then you should sleep.' But I am too tense; I keep thinking. 'What kind of thinking?' Well, everything. 'Of Georges?' Some. He represents something I have desired for a long time. 'How long?' Since before I came to America.
'Why did you come?' I came because in my own country I felt afraid. 'Of what?' Everything, but mainly of myself. I was beginning to want what I could not have. 'Can you be more clear?' No. When I try, my beliefs or desires come out beautiful. They are beautiful to me, but I cannot understand them in that form.
'You wanted to kill someone?' That is too simple. I thought about killing someone, though I did not know who. My ideas about death are very beautiful, so I wanted to think about killing a beautiful person. 'A boy?' Yes. 'And you could not find him there?' I could not find myself there. I was known as what I am not.
'Who are you?' I am trying to find this out. It is hard. I am driven to do certain things, and I believe they are helping me, because they seem strong. 'Why Georges?' He makes me feel something. I do not know this answer. 'He has been hurt?' Yes. 'By someone you know?' Yes." (109-110)

The novel's final chapter is narrated by Steve, who starts a nightclub called the Forefront in his parent's four-car garage. Later he meets George, and then an accident occurs, and the novel ends, in fairly effective order.

If there's anything to criticize about this book, it would be its subject matter, but that is a discussion I don't care to offer. I think it's unfair. More to the point: this novel meanders. Sometimes the meandering is great, and Cooper will find some new way to say something simple, in a sentence that the reader feels they might have read before, but with a word or two exchanging positions in order that changes the meaning. Other times, when a new narrator enters the picture, the reader can feel that they're losing the story, or missing the point. My first time reading it, I didn't like it as much.

The second time, I must admit it seems much longer than its 131 pages, but is consistent all the way through, and offers many quotable passages, as deranged as they may be. One of my favorites is more innocent though--it is George's declaration to change his life, in his diary:

"'I'm going to use this to make myself change, like a starting point. I think that's the best thing to do. I won't buy any more drugs. I'll try not to do what I always do. I never do anything other than school and Philippe.
'Tomorrow I'll clean up my room and make it look like a normal place. I think I'll burn all my Disneyland stuff so I can't change my mind. Nobody else was ever interested in the stuff anyway and all my feelings for it are destroyed by the drugs now.
'I called Cliff tonight, just to talk. He doesn't care anymore. He kept saying how cute David was. I guess they're in love. He said that David is sort of obsessed or whatever with me. I don't know why, but it pisses him off. I hung up.
'It's strange I'm not sad about Mom. I guess it took such a long time I felt everything I could feel already. I wish I hadn't been there, but I'm glad the last person she looked at was me. She really loved me once. Likewise, I guess.
'I think I'm afraid of stuff. Maybe that's it. I was afraid Mom would die, but now she has and it's okay. I can't let it stop me from doing things. I'm going to keep that in mind from now on. I mean it." (97)

Closer envisions an alternate reality of sex and violence that many will find shocking, and while it does not reach the heights of Try, it is nearly as good as Frisk, and a decent enough introduction to Cooper's work. It's definitely above-average, but something about it does seem longer--and there is something else worth noting: compared to the rest of the work in Cooper's oeuvre, it seems bland in some way. Like, there is no defining factor that makes it memorable.

For me, this isn't exactly true, but I could see how others might regard it in this light. The final chapter in particular, and the idea of the Forefront, stuck enough in my mind to imagine a parallel setting in my second novel. All of Cooper's work in general influenced my writing it, but several details reminded me of specific scenes, or even phraseology that I would later use, that were pleasures to re-discover. Though it is not a pleasurable read! Reading any of Cooper's books is not a pleasant experience, but it can also be cathartic in ways few other books can match.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Breakfast of Champions - Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Oeuvre rule: as previously reported, the only major items by Kurt Vonnegut that I have not read number few more than five: Slapstick, Player Piano, Jailbird, the new story collection, and various collections of essays, unpublished stories, etc. I first read Breakfast of Champions nine or ten years ago, in the midst of Vonnegut mania after reading his oft-cited masterpieces (Cat's Cradle, Slaughterhouse Five, Deadeye Dick--Sirens of Titan would languish in libraries for five more years, Hocus Pocus less than one), God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Welcome to the Monkey House, and Mother Night. Timequake fell along somewhere in there too. It was safe to say that Kurt Vonnegut and J.D. Salinger were my two favorite writers before I got into F. Scott Fitzgerald, and then many others later. Vonnegut is prime material for high schoolers because the language is so simple--but moreover, in his re-definition of what literature can be, readers may be driven to reassess the total value of books themselves, and to explore unthought philosophical tangents relating to the fabric of their existence and consciousness. This is one of Vonnegut's chief virtues as a writer: his ability to make his audience think. His body of work is also probably the single funniest in the canon of Great Books.

Breakfast of Champions came out in 1972, or around the time Vonnegut turned 50, and in his preface he writes of how the book is a birthday present to himself, and how he plans to "retire" several of his characters. Up until this point in his career, he had written six other books--Player Piano, Sirens of Titan, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, Mother Night, Cat's Cradle, and Slaughterhouse Five. The progression from novel to novel seems to indicate greater experimentation and more absurd humor--which I think hits its pitch for Vonnegut's career in Breakfast of Champions. In addition to its relative plotlessness, there are probably close to a hundred small drawings by Vonnegut also.

The book concerns Dwayne Hoover, who is a car salesman who is one of the richest men in Midland City, Ohio, whose wife killed herself by drinking Drano. He goes crazy. That is basically the plot of the novel. But in the meantime, a whole other cast of characters is introduced, and destiny will bring him into contact with another major character: Kilgore Trout, who will make Dwayne crazy by giving him his novel Now It Can Be Told, which posits that the reader is the only live creature in the universe with free-will and that everything around them has been created for their stimulation. The novel is actually fairly complex, when you get down into all of the individual episodes--but here is where it differs from Vonnegut's previous work: it can barely be classified as "science-fiction" at all. Kilgore Trout is a "science-fiction writer" and many of his stories are retold or recapped in this novel, but none of the major themes are particularly science-related. Instead, this is Vonnegut's "realist" novel.

Midland City could be any city in America, and Vonnegut's evocation of "small town life" where everyone is interconnected reads like a play on popular television and film of the day. More importantly, Vonnegut breaks down the concept of the novel itself when he juts into the narrative and offers a personal detail about how someone he knew, or someone in his family, is like one of the characters currently being discussed. And later, when he introduces himself as a character as the novel nears its climax. There is absolutely no pretense about the act of reading this book. Vonnegut does not attempt to disguise it as anything but what it is--which can barely be called a novel, though ultimately it is.

I struggled with whether to blog review this book for one important reason: Kurt Vonnegut needs no introduction. He does not need any "press." Anyone who is ever going to read his books will find them on their own. By high school, anyone who cares about literature will be exposed to him in some way. Several of his works stand up in comparison with some of the greatest novels any American has ever produced--while making it look way too easy. Perhaps Vonnegut is responsible for my own (failed as-of-yet) ambitions of writing.

I struggle with whether to quote any single portion of this book for fear that I cannot reproduce the pictures. Any single paragraph could be quoted as emblematic of the rest:

"Dwayne had a hamburger and French fries and a Coke at his newest Burger Chef, which was out on Crestview Avenue, across the street from where the new John F. Kennedy High School was going up. John F. Kennedy has never been in Midland City, but he was a President of the United States who was shot to death. Presidents of the country were often shot to death. The assassins were confused by some of the bad chemicals which troubled Dwayne.
Dwayne certainly wasn't alone, as far as having bad chemicals in him was concerned. He had plenty of company throughout all history. In his own lifetime, for instance, the people in a country called Germany were so full of bad chemicals for a while that they actually built factories whose only purpose was to kill people by the millions. The people were delivered by railroad trains.
When the Germans were full of bad chemicals, their flag looked like this: (Nazi flag picture)
(German flag picture) Here is what their flag looked like after they got well again:
After they got well again, they manufactured a cheap and durable automobile which became popular all over the world, especially among young people. It looked like this: (picture of VW Bug)
People called it a 'the beetle.' A real beetle looked like this: (picture of beetle)" (669-671--my edition, which contains the first six Vonnegut novels, sans Rosewater, a collection I will keep with me forever.)

And so on.

One quirk of this novel that is perhaps worth noting is the prevalence of the "n-word." It appears so many times in this novel that it could be banned on those grounds alone. Of course, it is used satirically, but I am sure it would be difficult to publish this book thirty years later. Upon reflection, the "n-word" appears so many times (it far outnumbers the "f-bombs") that it makes me want to say Breakfast of Champions's secret theme is racism. Its major theme is of course, the "illness" that civilization suffers from (perhaps the major theme of all of Vonnegut's work)--but its primary variant is racism. There are perhaps a dozen little tangents in this book, hateful little anecdotes about racism, sometimes shocking in gruesomeness. The message is ultimately anti-racist of course, but so much of the material is presented with such detachment and objectivity and ambiguity that many could be confused. This "racism theme" is something I did not notice my first time reading it, but seemed to stick out much more the second time.

Of course, both times I could not forget about all of the statistics of penis sizes. Or the line "dumb fucking bird."

I didn't like Breakfast of Champions as much as the other supposed masterpieces by the same author, and I think it does leave a bit of a sour taste in one's mouth. But it's only because the hero is an anti-hero (though Trout is something of a hero), and there is no easily defined plot or action to anticipate. As Vonnegut became more absurd in his humor around this time, he also moved increasingly into autobiography over the next two decades, and one can witness the shift in his artistic sensibilities with this volume. He is confident that he can do whatever he wants and it will be published. But he uses that template to create a much more ambivalent work of art that still contains some of his most beautiful moments (the description of Rabo Karabekian's The Temptation of St. Anthony, the last line of the novel, spoken by Kilgore Trout) but will probably confuse or distress some. I recommend everyone read every Vonnegut novel. I still have several left to go, myself.

I have never read Player Piano, but it is in this edition, and I should blog review it. I have never been able to get into it, the one or two times I tried to start it. I really just want to read Cat's Cradle for the third or fourth time.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

On Writing - Stephen King

There is a literary agent named Nathan Bransford who runs his own blog and asks questions of his readers. I have read his blog for the last several years and often attempted to follow his advice, concerning query letters usually. I sent him one query letter, received a message of zero interest (but thanks for reading the blog!), and now I only read it when I'm super-bored.

Last time I was super-bored, he asked the question, "What is the one book a person must read in order to make them into a better writer?" There were over 200 comments. The comments on Flying Houses are usually porn links.

Many of the comments suggested Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, a book I read my senior year in high school that I remember very little about beyond the practice of using index cards and beyond the advice that no one ever makes a living off their writing, ever. So I suggested Ulysses for fiction and Bird by Bird for non-fiction. And nobody cared.

The reason I mention this question is that Stephen King's On Writing appeared more on that list than any other volume, and by a longshot. So I thought, it must be something really special, I must check it out. SO, I did that, and while it is a perfectly decent manual on the way to "start taking writing seriously" which includes other interesting variations (memories of growing up, memories of nearly dying after being hit by a car, commentary on The Elements of Style) of course it contains plenty of the sad realities I always hate to associate with the "art" of writing--the commercial aspect, the "less pretentious" aspect.

Oeuvre rule: what I have read by Stephen King, I read thirteen years ago. The best thing I ever read by him was The Long Walk, which merits mention in one sentence of On Writing (King does say it was "pretty good"). I did not like The Shining as much as the movie. In general though, I never really got into him. Of course I've seen a bunch of the movies that his writing has spawned (1408 deserves special mention as it occurs near the end and is one of his most recent adaptations) but I am not a huge fan of his writing for one reason: not that he's a "hack," but he can do pretty much whatever he wants, he has to be one of the most fabulously-well-to-do writers ever to exist, and he chooses to write stories and novels of the supernatural---which he claims, at base, are about reality---but I'm sorry, as a "realist," his work bores me. I want to read about real people making real decisions about their real lives, not how best to outthink a madman in a snow-covered hedge maze.

And not that his writing is "low-brow," but, I don't think he's going to compete for the Nobel anytime soon. I will mention that in the last five years it seems like, I don't know, King has moved into more elite company as far as "serious" writers like Richard Ford/Don DeLillo/Philip Roth go. He had his own interview in The Paris Review and more "highbrow" writers pay attention to his redoubtable success. But I'm still going to say King's success shouldn't mean much to people of my generation. None of us are ever going to be published except on our blogs and we should all rent out a private island for a writer's retreat, make some purple kool-aid, print out everything we've ever written, start a giant bonfire and drink the stuff. One of us may have an idea like Carrie, but no one is ever going to buy that novel, again. Even though "bullying" seems like quite the hot topic now.

But what did I think of this book? I liked parts of it. And I didn't like most of it--because I've heard it all before. Since it comes from King, one is apt to put more stock in it, I suppose. There are several quotes I would like to comment upon.

#1: Passive Voice
"Messrs. Strunk and White don't speculate as to why so many writers are attracted to passive verbs, but I'm willing to; I think timid writers like them for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with; the subject just has to close its eyes and think of England, to paraphrase Queen Victoria. I think unsure writers also feel the passive voice somehow lends their work authority, perhaps even a quality of majesty. If you find instruction manuals and lawyers' torts majestic, I guess it does." (116--he then goes on to discuss why "The meeting will be held at 7," should be changed to "The meeting's at 7.")

This is just dumb. I use the passive voice more than I should. If anything I consider it dangerous, not safe, because every single teacher I've ever had has said "don't use the passive voice" (and don't use "to be" verbs--which I particularly hate). I don't think it lends my writing a sense of majesty. I do it when the "active" voice sounds awkward. Writing teachers will tell you that active voice is never awkward. That is my complaint about the majority of this text: King does have special advice to give, but instead he falls back on filling his book with the trite suggestions of writing manuals everywhere--and while I am more apt to believe it, coming from him, it makes me sad. The only thing that doesn't make me sad is when King says, "I know, I know. Damn." (note: that is the exact text of an e-mail Roger Ebert once sent to me on the subject of not being able to see Requiem for a Dream as a 17-year-old)

The next comment comes on the subject of daily routine:
"As with physical exercise, it would be best to set this goal low at first, to avoid discouragement. I suggest a thousand words a day, and because I'm feeling magnanimous, I'll also suggest that you can take one day a week off, at least to begin with."

First of all---how come he never mentions the thing about ending sentences with prepositions?--and second of all, he says he reads four to six hours every day on top of the 2,000 words he sets as a limit for himself. I do not disagree with setting a word limit. If one is doing NaNoWriMo, one must do at least 1,200 words every day. No days off! I did NaNoWriMo and I could do 1,000 words a day, when I wrote that third book in November of 2008, my life was not especially painful, just boring in the extreme when I was not actively engaged in creating the text. Because I knew I had to set aside two hours every day to do it. Putting a deadline on it put everything in perspective, and while I finished the majority of the rough draft by December, I did not finish the entire rough draft until April or May of 2009. That is what urgency can do for you.

But I want to ask you: don't you think King finds it easier to spend 90% of his life writing when he has been paid so much for it? I have been paid zero dollars, so why should I think the next twenty-seven years will be any different? As I've said, things are getting worse in the publishing industry. It's difficult to commit yourself to something that may be as fruitless as seeking the Fountain of Youth. That said, I wouldn't trade my four unpublished babies for anything else. Even if they never make me money, they exist as proof that I am not an empty shell of a human being. I'll write, but I'll never write the way King recommends until I have the time for it, and the patience.

Around page 163, King discusses how he came up with the idea for Misery. Earlier in the text, he talks about Carrie and connecting the idea of telekinetic powers with menstruation (which some girls had reported near the time of their first period) and bullying and on this point, I found him quite salient. There was the origin of a story, clearly defined. I am surprised that he does not mention the irony of his car accident with Misery--I think it was too obvious for a joke. When discussing his own work, King makes his most intelligent points. The same can be said for most Paris Review interviews: when a writer discusses generalities, I am apt to dismiss; when they discuss specifics, I am apt to listen.

The most incredible aspect of King's career is his ability to mass-produce literature, and he gives insight into that process in one telling detail:

"A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot, which is fine with me. The more interesting situations can usually be expressed by a What-if question:
What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem's Lot)
What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
What if a cleaning woman suspected of a murder she got away with (her husband) fell under suspicion for a murder she did not commit (her employer)? (Dolores Claiborne)
What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

He later talks about characters "doing things on their own" and how it can be weird, but exciting, and how it can make things easier on a writer. I have experienced that phenomenon a couple times and so I do not disagree with King there. I don't disagree with his notions of plot, either, nor detail, nor sticking to "he said/she said,"--but I do disagree about his hatred of adverbs. Pick your battles. I always use adverbs and people tell me they're ugly. Well guess what, you're ugly. I mean that facetiously, of course. There's a reason why they exist in grammar textbooks.

The part I like best about On Writing comes near the end, near page 240 where King discusses his friend "Frank," who is an amalgamation of three writer friends he has known, who all had some decent success in college with writing, published a couple stories in their early-to-mid twenties, and eventually published novels as they neared thirty. This is the single best part of the book for anyone looking to "make it" and I would imagine that it is the part so many were thinking of when they commented on Nathan Bransford's blog question.

Obviously it's not easy to "make it" unless you put in the kind of effort that King dictates, and it's well and good that there won't be dilettantes who make it on luck rather than work (though you'll never stop me from believing they exist), but King still makes it look too easy. Just getting a story published is hard enough these days, forget about ever getting to the point where an agent will care about your query. King states like many before him that all a writer needs is some talent, pluck, determination, and a copy of Writer's Market.

I'd rather say that a person needs to be depressed, possibly suicidal, traumatized by some early life experience, very shy, lonely, and guilty in some way to be a writer. Those are the sort of stipulations I prefer. You can be lazy and still consider yourself a writer. You have the personality of one, right? All you need to do is put in the practice. Not so hard. Until you realize that practice ends nowhere. Like shooting free throws endlessly. You make 70 in a row, and no one witnesses it but yourself. You're a better free throw shooter than Lebron James, but only when no one is looking. You will never be Lebron James because he is 6'8'', 240 and he is paid hundreds of millions of dollars to put in his practice every day and you are paid $13/hour to push paper and what small leisure time you have, you'd rather put in to relax than suffer more frustration. I can't wait until I am rich and famous and can write my own book about writing.