Saturday, February 28, 2015

Night Shift by Stephen King

Photo: First edition hardcover, from the book's Wikipedia site.

Very successful collection of short stories that spawned some (really bad) movies.  I'd read this book as a much younger guy, but had forgotten most of the stories, so I went back to it and appreciated it all over again.  I've lost somewhere my original copy--the one shown here--and so I've had to make do with the "Children of the Corn," movie tie-in version I have here now.  Somebody, probably me, had switched copies over the years, and I can't tell you why.  Odd.  And I want the original one back.

The ones I remembered from (literally) my youth were: "The Last Rung on the Ladder" (still my favorite here), "Jerusalem's Lot," "Graveyard Shift," "Strawberry Spring," "The Bogeyman," "Gray Matter," and, because of the incredibly bad movies, "Children of the Corn" and "Lawnmower Man."

"The Last Rung on the Ladder" and "The Woman in the Room" work especially well because there's nothing supernatural in them.  Both stories--especially the former--read well because they are of the "Nothing's More Scary than Real Life" genre--which should be a genre if it isn't.

All of the stories are either good or very good, but I was pleased to discover a couple more.  "One for the Road" works really well, and is one of the scarier ones here.  If "Jerusalem's Lot" was originally a chapter in Salem's Lot--I think I got this right from King, who said it opened his book and was taken out just like Stoker's "Dracula's Guest" opened up Dracula and was taken out--then "One for the Road" takes place after Salem's Lot ends.  It's mentioned in the story that Ben Mears had burned the town down.  I would've put this story last in the collection, rather than second-to-last.  "Jerusalem's Lot" opens it up, so it would've been nice book-ending to have "One for the Road" end it.  Or perhaps that's too-slick serendipity, like the similar paths taken by Stoker's and King's vampire stories.

"One for the Road," "Strawberry Spring" and "The Last Rung on the Ladder" are the best-written stories here.  Almost all of these stories, by the way, were originally published in Cavalier magazine, a now-defunct magazine of a certain sort, if you know what I mean.  I wonder what men of the 70s made out of these well-written, and sometimes philosophically-bent, ruminations next to those explicitly explicit pictures of...well, you know.  It'd be a little jolting, I'd imagine.  He also got paid a few hundred bucks, per story, by that magazine, which is really good money for short stories, especially in the 70s.  My guess is that the magazine was trying to become the next glossy picture and literary high-end magazine of one of its bunny-themed competitors, and failing miserably.  (That bunny magazine, by the way, still pays a few thousand dollars for a short story, and always has.  So the lie could also be "I was reading the stories!" instead of "I buy it for the articles!")

Anyway, what I've learned here is that King has an idea and he writes it.  The simplicity of that is sort of shocking to me.  So here we have a story about a possessed laundry-pressing machine; a story about monstrous and blind rats; a story about trucks taking over the world; a story of a company that hurts those you love to help you quit smoking; a story about a hitman done in by the toys sent by the mother of his latest victim...and they all work, in varying degrees.

Think it, write it; think it, write it; think it, write it.  And why not?

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"A Matter of Principle" by Charles W. Chesnutt, Library of America

Photo: Charles Chesnutt, at 40.  From his Wikipedia page. The reason I include his picture will be apparent when you read below.

I haven't read one of the short stories sent to me, for free, from the Library of America.  This is a service I recommend, and I've written about a few of the stories (Charles W. Chesnutt's "Baxter's Procrustes," one of my most-read blog entries, can be read here; another, Henry James's "Paste," can be read here).  I've fallen almost two years behind on these, as they're sent to an email I rarely check, and I have trouble finishing things (::cough::--novel-::cough::) besides.

These Library of America emails highlight a short story, short novel, article, or other piece of writing that the Library of America has collected in a volume of that author.  I own a couple of these, and can say that they are worth the price--though a high price it is.  I didn't say I could afford it; I just said each was worth it.  Anyway, these are high-quality and important stories, diary entries (soon I'll read Gideon Welles's diary entries about his first-hand knowledge of Lincoln's assassination) and other things.  They're short, often between five and twenty pages, so they don't take long to read.  Sign up for this service here.

The story of this blog entry, Week 264 (like I said, I'm several years behind) is Charles W. Chesnutt's "A Matter of Principle."  (The Library of America apparently loves Charles W. Chesnutt.)  You can read this story on your own here--but before you do, read the following disclaimer.  The story is about what, at the time, was called...Well, here's how the Library of America introduced the story, and its author:

Several of his stories and novels deal with the comic—and occasionally tragic—effects of the social confusion and legal complications that result from attempts to determine or avoid this “color line.” As a light-skinned African American, Chesnutt particularly reserved what he called “a very kindly irony” for those of his fellow Cleveland residents who were regarded as black by white society yet who presented themselves as superior to their darker neighbors. Or, as biographer William L. Andrews writes, Chesnutt satirized “an assimilationist philosophy among upwardly mobile, light-skinned Afro-Americans which implied ‘absorption’ into the white race as its goal.”
Why would Chesnutt write about this, and what exactly is it?  This explains it, from Chesnutt's Wikipedia page:

"Chesnutt was born in Cleveland, Ohio, to Andrew Chesnutt and Ann Maria (née Sampson) Chesnutt, both "free persons of color" from Fayetteville, North Carolina. His paternal grandfather was known to be a white slaveholder and, based on his appearance, Chesnutt likely had other white ancestors. He claimed to be seven-eighths white, and identified as African American. Given his overwhelming European ancestry, Chesnutt could "pass" as a white man, although he never chose to do so. In the 19th century and in many southern states at the time of his birth, Chesnutt was considered legally white. Under the one drop rule later adopted into law by the 1920s in most of the South, he would have been classified as legally black because of having some known African ancestry."  Check out Chesnutt's Wikipedia page for other interesting things about an interesting guy during interesting times.  A talented and creative author could not make up the "one drop rule."

Back to my disclaimer: The story is all about race, which some people find iffy, and it contains language that is simply not acceptable today--more stinging in this story, to me, because it's used by African-Americans in judgment of other African-Americans.  Chesnutt's writing was written in a light-hearted way, and this story was meant to be seen that way when it was published in 1899.  It may not seem light-hearted to the reader today; or, at least, some of its words and tone may not.  So consider yourself forewarned.

Anyway, the bottom line for this blog entry is this.  I got to thinking that the main characters of this story, as well as the Congressman in it, and the story's author, Charles Chesnutt--and, say, Derek Jeter--would have had no problem at all walking into a southern restaurant, in the 50s, let's say, that had a sign saying it would not serve African-Americans.  Why?  Because they didn't look African-American.  But what does that even mean?  (This is the essential question behind Chesnutt's story.)  One could legally answer that question, apparently, by using the 1920s "one drop rule" of the South.  But, I mean, what does it mean, really, since one can't always tell, by sight, who is, and who is not, African-American?  If Chesnutt, or Derek Jeter, or countless others who don't look African-American, can walk into a restaurant that didn't serve African-Americans--and then get served--well, then, the whole racial divide is unnecessary and undefinable, isn't it?  If it's possible that you can serve an African-American, and not know it, then what's your problem, exactly?

Now fast-forward to today, to some states, like Arizona, where, by law, businesses don't have to serve any member of the lesbian, gay, trans-gendered community.  Or to Kansas, where, by law, business owners don't have to hire someone (or, they can fire someone) based solely on his sexual orientation.

(I know you can see where I'm going with this.)

It's the same thing, isn't it?  Can you always tell who's gay and who isn't?  Is anyone's gay-dar that perfect?  Isn't it possible that some gay men and women could walk into a bakery that won't serve gay people--and get served?  If so, then isn't the whole thing as unnecessary and undefinable as the situation above?  If a gay person who doesn't "look" or "act" like a gay person can walk into a restaurant that doesn't serve gay people--and then get served--then isn't it all ridiculous?  If it's possible that you can serve a gay person in a business you own, that you proudly exclaim doesn't serve gay people, and still not know that you're serving gay people, than what's your problem, exactly?

Doesn't sound reasonable or logical to me.

P.S.--This is why literature is important.  A story from 1899 will have relevance to racist America, 1930-1960 (rough estimate), and also have the exact same relevance to something happening today.

I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

When People Say Stupid Things About Others

Just a few quick things...

--Giuliani used to be the Joe Torre of NYC for those of us who don't live in NYC: a classy guy amidst a whirlwind of blech!  Not anymore.

--And, yeah, Obama loves his country.  The proof is the job he took--again, I might add--though he knew he'd have to deal with idiots saying stuff like this.

--And now the governor of Wisconsin says he doesn't know if Obama loves his country.

--Yeah, he does.  So much, in fact, that he's trying to make health care, voting and the economy fair for everyone.  In a democracy, what's better than that?

--I've had enough of people saying stupid crap about Obama.  Make it a point to notice: Those who are saying such things, they're not the President.  And they've had unsuccessful political aspirations, even if they're otherwise successful politicians, like Giuliani, who wanted to run for president many years ago, but just didn't have the support of his party.

--And, P.S.--Just because you don't like somebody, that doesn't mean you have the right to stay stupid crap about them.

--People who say such things, those things say more about them than they do about the person they're complaining about.  And they don't know this, because they keep on saying them.

--I've had it with people who say stupid crap about anyone, actually.  I wish I had the time to say stupid things about people.  Things get back to me every now and then about people who say crap about others, including about me.  I don't play that game.  I don't have time to.  I'm too busy actually doing my job, writing my stuff, livin' my life.  So busy, in fact, that I don't even know the stupid things said about people, or about me, until someone (or MSN) tells me. 

--Do I retaliate by doing the same?  Nope.  I simply don't have the time.  That's just not who I am.

--I'm not saying that makes me a better person.  I'm just saying that it's not what I want to do, and it's not who I want to be.  I don't define myself by comparing myself to others.  I just decide who I want to be, and then I try to be that.  Sometimes I fail and do incredibly stupid things, too--but usually not to the detriment of others.  Just myself.  I pretty much just leave other people alone in life.  I stay in my cave and I do what I do. 

--And I don't have the jealousy and bitterness that people like that have, that make them say the stupid things about people that they do.  I simply do not get jealous, or bitter, about others.  Because, again, I don't compare myself to others to begin with, so there's nothing to get jealous or bitter about.

--I'm just sayin'.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Sell or Not to Sell: An Open Plea for Ideas or Advice

A quick blurb about some housekeeping on this site and on my other blogs, plus some ideas.

--I deleted the AHS blog because a) the season's over, and b) despite my best intentions, I didn't have time to keep up with it.

--I'm running into the same problem with this season's Walking Dead blog, but I'm hoping for a revival of my own, much like the characters had in the latest episode from Sunday, February 15th.

--The analytics show that I can make some money off this blog, and my Walking Dead and my baseball blogs, if I can keep them up.  To do that, I'd either have to sell stuff on them (like, my already-published stories, if the rights have reverted back to me) or I'd have to place ads.

--I'm open to anyone's ideas and / or comments about this.  (Please send me an email [address above] or place a comment.  Thanks.) 

--I am loathe to put up ads, but who couldn't use more money?  And what if they weren't obtrusive?  I've seen sites where the ads were just off to the side, or down below.  Though that makes me wonder how much money was being generated that way.  And if you're not bringing in revenue, why have the ads to begin with?

--But I could create links to pages to sell my stuff.  Or I could set up such links on this page.  But then I'd have to figure out how to get PayPal on this page.  And how much would that cost?  And is it worth it?

--Anyone have any ideas about how I could sell my short stories, once the rights have reverted back to me?  (I believe the rights to all of the pieces shown on my Published Work tab have reverted back to me by now.)  Again, emails or comments are fine, please and thank you.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin -- Book Review

Photo--Paperback copy, and the one I read, from its Wikipedia page.

A very good book, but not as good as its predecessors.  This has been much remarked upon, so I won't belabor what's already been said...

Except to say that Martin has to try something different, and focus on different characters, doesn't he?  Readers forget that the writers themselves also have to be entertained (as U2 reminded its fans when the band made techno-pop stuff the masses hated); I would imagine that after approximately 4,000 pages (which probably means up to 8K to 12K pages, edited and often deleted), Martin felt that, to stay sharp, he would have to focus on different characters--many of them not the major ones--and also do little things, like refer to characters by their new status, or tongue-in-cheek nicknames, in the chapter headings.  This doesn't always work, and is at times confusing, but you've made it this far, through 5K or so pages, so you'll get it before long.  He did this a bit in the previous book, perhaps less successfully and more irritatingly, but you got through that, right?  So will you here.

And you'll like this one more than the last, I think.  It really picks up in the second half--maybe the last third, if you're picky--and it goes by in a rush after that.  Like Stephen King and maybe a few others, Martin's writing is compulsively readable, even when its not at its best, so you'll find yourself sailing along, even if you're not completely thrilled with what's going on.  This is a must, if one is to read about seven thousand pages before it's all over, so it's a good thing he's able to do this.

By the end, you'll be far further along than the Game of Thrones series on HBO, so you'll have to be quiet about what happened.  (Notice the lack of a summary of any kind here.)  There won't be another book in 2015, or so said Martin recently in an interview, so we'll have to make do with the show for now.  I expect the show to drag out quite a bit of what happens here, unless they want to finish with the show before Martin finishes with the books.  (He'll share his outlines and notes of the last two books with the show's creators, I would assume.)  If so, this would be a rare event.  Normally the book(s) end first for the movies and shows (a la Harry Potter) to drum up even more interest in the movie and successive books.  That may not be the case here, as J.K. Rowling was a quicker writer than is Martin.  But who knows?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Just After Sunset by Stephen King -- A Book Review

Photo: Hardcover edition (and the one I read) from its Wikipedia page.

Very entertaining collection of short stories, which I apparently bought, put on the shelf with my collection of all his books, and then completely forgot about and never read.  A recent article in Entertainment Weekly informed me that a movie (or show, I forget) would be made of one of them, "The Things They Left Behind."  (It's an okay story about objects left behind by those who died on 9/11.  They create psychic damage to those who own them--and they suddenly turn up out of nowhere.  He did what he could with this one.  Nice little story.)  This story sounded unfamiliar. I can't say that I can recall the plot of all of King's 200+ short stories, but I'll at least remember the title.  Not this time.  Turns out, never read the book.  Just a little blip to remind me of my old age...

Anyway, this book of short stories is best remembered for the ideas behind the stories, rather than for the awesomeness of the stories themselves.  I don't mean this as a slight, but there's nothing in here that rivals "Jerusalem's Lot," or any of the truly good and freaky short stories from Night Shift or Skeleton Crew.  But there are some good ones here; just not great ones.

I've already written a blog entry about "Willa," which is maybe my favorite here.  He does everything with it that he could, which I can't say for some of the other good ones.  Anyway, this one is more about happy resignation in the...waystation between here and there, I guess.  I think an entire novel could be written about this waystation, where time is elastic, and the people are in denial.  But there's a really good honkytonk bar nearby, and you can dance all night if you let yourself...Great idea, fully realized.

"Stationary Bike" is another good one, but I don't feel he did everything with this he could have.  (So much so that I've written some notes for what I think will be a good short story of my own.  There won't be a stationary bike in it, and...Well, hopefully, you'll see.  In a magazine someday.)  A man needs to lose weight and is a bit lonely after a loved one dies.  He buys (see title) and, because those things really are as boring as hell, imagines himself on a road to a little town he used to love.  This being a Stephen King story, you know his imagination gets away from him, and weird things happen.  This could go in a million directions (a la Duma Key, or a story about a traveling guy in a painting that I hated...the story, I mean), but it ends with...well, I won't ruin it for you.  But for me it was a letdown.  A metaphorical letdown, no less.  But some great ideas and images.

"N." is a very good story that could have been so much more.  A psychiatrist gets rained in by his suicidal / OCD patient who kills himself in defense of a Lovecraftian horror that's got a Lovecraftian name--and a field named after early schlock writer Forrest Ackerman.  The psychiatrist then descends into "Sole Survivor" mode.  He doesn't eat his own foot, but...essentially the same.  This one could easily be made into an episode of some series, or maybe a really bad movie.  But good story.

"The Cat from Hell" is a short story you might remember from 1990's Tales from the Darkside: The Movie.  An evil cat kills those who live with a guy who owned a company that tested its meds on thousands of cats, killing them all.  He hires a hitman to kill it, but he fails.  In a rather gruesome way, a la the old guy with the cockroaches in the last segment of Creepshow.  This is a story from King's early days, and it shows.  It's amusingly gross, but...(nitpick alert!) there's a sentence towards the end that begins: "And the last thing he heard was..." and then a paragraph later, he sees and hears a great many things until the end.  Oh, well.  Early shock stuff, with badguys twirling their mustaches and reaching appropriate ends.

"Ayana" is a very good story with nostalgic sadness, like the last third of Insomnia.  This is probably the best-written story here, and a very good premise.  This is immediately followed by a story of an old guy who gets trapped inside a Port-A-Potty, and is covered in what you might expect.
Opposite ends of the King spectrum.  But you like that, or you wouldn't consider reading his stuff in the first place.

Lastly, a little nod to Stephen King, who gets paid at least $10 million per novel.  Or, maybe, per novel manuscript.  As you know, he turns those out like I get sinus infections.  It takes a lot of short stories to equal one novel manuscript, but he turns them out by the hundreds anyway, though in terms of time taken, it's undoubtedly not worth his time, financially, to do so.  But he does anyway, because he likes them.  Short stories are making a little bit of a comeback these days.  This is due in a small way to writers like King and Joyce Carol Oates (though she's more known for her short stories than for her novels, I think) who have kept the flame alive and passed the torch.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Quick Jots 2.1.15

--The website says that my website, the one you're currently reading, is ranked 13,660,425 in the entire United States.  I don't know if this is deplorable, or actually really good.  There are about 360 million people in this country, but how many of them have websites or blogs?  10%?  That would place me 13.6 million out of 36 million, which I guess isn't that bad.  But if that ranking also includes sites like, and other huge pages like that, than the ranking is really impressive.  I mean, I don't post any video, or music.  Very few pics or links.  Mostly, just me ranting, really, and usually about books or movies--not riveting for most people.  So, I can't decide if this is really cool, or if it really isn't, or if I just need to get a life.  Or any combination.  And I don't know how I stumbled upon to begin with, as I was just logging off to go to bed.  (It's 1 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2015.)

--And the site said this blog has an estimated worth of $749.93!  This is interesting because I pay less than $50 a year to keep it going, and I don't sell anything on it, and I don't have any ads on it.  Does this mean that my thoughts have actual value?  Niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiice...

--So now I'm thinking how I can make the actual $749.93 from this, without putting up any ads.  I would never do that to you, my cherished readers, or to myself.  So...anyone wanna cut me a check for $749.93?

--If you wanna see for yourself, here's the link.  The monthly visits and monthly pages viewed stats are way off, by the way.  I get many more than what it says, for both.  I got 1,594 pageviews last month, which was a little low for me, according to the Google Analytics stuff.  I'm just sayin'.  So, I wonder what the ranking would be if the stats were correct on that page?  I need a moment to get over myself.

So what else is going on...

--I got just over 19" of snow here this week, Tuesday and Wednesday.  And it looks like I'm getting 10" to 12" more Sunday night through Tuesday morning.  Damn good thing I have lots of house projects and writing things to do.  And I don't mind the cold, as it actually improves my sinuses.  Still...I think I can do without for awhile now.  I can see more ice on my driveway than cement.

--And it's going to be -3 here Thursday night.  That's real temp, not wind chill.

--I've had enough with the Patriots' hijinks, but still...If you make the teams bring their own 12 footballs, you're begging for a problem.  I mean, the $1 billion + business that's the NFL can't afford its own 24 footballs for one of the two playoff games playing that week?

--And you can't tell me the other teams haven't been doing something with their footballs all this time.  I wonder if the Pats would get ratted on if they didn't win as often.  The Jets, for example, rat on the Pats, not the other way around.  Speaking of which--Every football team has cameras filming the other sideline--a few years ago during Spygate, before that, and even now, I'd bet.  I'd be shocked if that didn't happen in college, too.

--And deflated footballs didn't cause the Colts to lose by 38 points.  Unless the balls themselves can score five touchdowns and a field goal, that is.

--Having said that, a note to the Patriots: Let's just play the game, shall we?

--I'm a Pats fan, but I pick the Seahawks to win.  The Pats have trouble with great rushing QBs.  But Wilson will lose if he throws a handful of picks again.  Belichick has already forgotten more about football than I'll ever know, but I'll say it anyway: If I'm the Pats, I try to shut down the Seahawks's running game, keep Wilson in the pocket, and make him beat me with his arm.  This will be a lot easier if the Pats can lead early by a score or two, so he has to throw.

--As for the halftime show, well...I'm not her target audience, but Katy Perry is amusing.  She doesn't take herself too seriously, and she doesn't try to be more than what she is: a pop star with a core audience of 13-18 year old girls.

--That's not the Super Bowl audience, but we'll see what the Halftime ratings turn out to be.

--And I approve of a recently-released pic of her and her small dog.  It's looking at the camera like the person taking the picture has just said, "Wanna go for a walk?" or "Wanna eat?"

--And, please, I'd take Katy Perry over Rick Perry any day, every day.

--Mitt Romney announced this week that he will not run for president after all.  When asked how sure he was, he said, "Oh, about 47%."

--Mike Huckabee said he probably will run, and Sarah Palin changes her mind (or, "mind") by the minute, so I'm keeping some blog tabs ready to go, just in case.  Cuz there's gonna be a lotta verbal head-scratchin' silliness with those two.

--Speaking of blog tabs, you may have noticed that I have not been using my American Horror Story: Freak Show or Cards and Commentary blogs at all.  Just haven't had the time.  For the record, this past season's AHS was very good, light-years ahead of Coven.  Though the last two or three episodes were just Eh.  But well-done Eh, if you know what I mean.

--Biggest beef: Some sort of odd character judgement by the show's creators.  For the last two years, the last episode was about most of the characters dying, and what kind of "heaven" they go to.

--And there was something disquieting about watching three people eating popcorn while watching a guy dressed in just his underwear drown to death while chained to a cement block.

--Watching someone struggle and die in pain and vain is...well, watching someone struggle and die in pain and vain.  Just because you're watching someone die like that who'd also murdered people and who'd also watched many people die like that, that doesn't mean you're not also murdering him.

--And liking it.

--Now that I put it like that...the last episode wasn't so great after all.

--I'm tired of seeing characters knocked out just so they can wake up and die badly.  Off the top of my head, this also happened in: the remake of The Last House on the Left; True Lies; Die Hard 4, all of the Saw movies, and countless other shows and movies I've seen that I forget because it's now 2 a.m.  It's done for the same effect--this time by the movie's audience--as described above.  The movie-makers will tell you it's done for the audience's catharsis, so the audience will see that evil fails and all is right with the world again--but that's crap, of course, and they know it.

--The movie-makers do that because they assume we all have the same base instincts and desires.

--We don't.