Tag Archives: Stephen King

The Re-Reading Project: Strangers

November 7-December 2 1. Laguna Beach, California Dominick Corvaisis went to sleep under a light wool blanket and a crisp white sheet, sprawled alone in his bed, but he woke elsewhere–in the darkness at the back of the large foyer closet, behind concealing coats and jackets. He was curled in the fetal position. His hands were squeezed into tight fists. The muscles in his neck and arms ached from the tension of a bad though unremembered dream. He could not recall leaving the comfort of his mattress during the night, but he was not surprised to find that he had traveled in the dark hours. It had happened on two other occasions, and recently.

Dean Koontz is, hands down, one of the most influential writers on me as a person and a writer. Which was kind of an awkward thing to take into graduate school, my devoted passion for genre books and authors, particular an author who some have disparagingly referred to as a knock-off Stephen King. He seems most often compared to Stephen King because they’re both prolific authors, writing popular horror around the same time, often mining the same themes and tropes (in fact, Strangers and The Stand have always seemed to deal with many of the same elements and themes). This long-running comparison between them, at least by the fans of each writer, may be the reason that I never finished a Stephen King book till I read Carrie for a college course in 2001 (I read On Writing the next year and they remain the only books of his I’ve read). Anyway, Stephen King has the better track record when it comes to films and t.v. versions of his work and I think that actually has a lot to do with how they’re both perceived in the public consciousness.

I last read Strangers around 1997-1998, so I’ll say I was 16. While it was the last time I read it, I must’ve read it at least once before that and I’ve always remembered it as my favorite of Koontz’, after Lightning. Since I’d re-read Lightning more recently (2009), I decided to re-read Strangers for this project. Also, Strangers helped me identify a theme of Koontz’ that I started to see in most of his books: the coming together of strangers to form a family unit. While it is most obvious in this book, you can find variations of it in pretty much all of his work.

His first hardback bestseller, Strangers was published in 1986. It features 12 primary characters (according to Wikipedia, I’d say at least 4 of them are secondary characters), most of whom have 3rd person chapters from their perspective. The first half of the book focuses on these characters as their lives are falling apart because of a variety of disorders and maladies they can’t explain. It’s not till the second half of the book that almost all of the characters come together and start to figure out the puzzle of what happened to them collectively.

The book was a bit dated when I was reading it in 1997-1998, but nothing like it is now. Similar to what I discovered when I re-read Lightning in 2009, I found that Strangers reads like a period story now, very much a product of its time. The story would be very different if it was set now, but I enjoyed that aspect of the story. It was a bit of a time capsule, a reminder of the way things used to be, and how drastically technology has changed the way we connect to other people since the 80s.

IMG_2908 I re-read my original paperback edition, putting some serious creases in the spine on this go-round because it took me about two weeks to read it. Yes, I have to confess, I was disappointed to find upon re-reading that I was bored for most of the first half of the book. I didn’t particularly care about the two main characters among the twelve (Dom and Ginger), who just seemed too good and uncomplicated, despite their troubles. Koontz takes about 300 pages to ratchet up the tension and I think probably 150 or 200 would’ve been more than fine, even with as many characters as he had. But once the characters started coming together, I reinvested in the story. My memories of what happened were sometimes very distinct and clear and others times very imprecise. But I remembered very early the gist of “what happened” to the characters and it was satisfying to see that I remembered correctly. However, after the long build-up about what had happened to these characters, the resolution was way too quick, almost an afterthought.

I read and collected copies of all of Koontz’ books, up till about 1997 and Sole Survivor and then I didn’t read another Koontz book through most of college, according to my reading records. I re-read Oddkins in 2004 and then read The Taking the same year, and was blown away. I started listening to the Odd Thomas series on long road trips and really enjoyed Innocence last year. I think he was a prolific, but inconsistent, writer when I was a kid and first fell for his books. But now that I’m adult and comparing the early books I loved with his more recent titles, I think it’s safe to say that he’s become a better writer over the years. His characters can still tend to be a bit too black and white, “good” or “bad,” but he will always know how to tell an interesting story, build lots of tension and entertain the reader.

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The Re-Reading Project Guest Post: The Stand

 “Sally.”
A mutter.
“Wake up now, Sally.”
A louder mutter: lemme lone.
He shook her harder.
“Wake up. You got to wake up!”
Charlie’s voice calling her. But for how long?
Sally swam up out of her sleep.
First she glances at the clock on the night table and saw it was quarter past two in the morning. Charlie shouldn’t even be here; he should be on shift. Then she got her first good look at him and something leaped up inside her, some deadly intuition.
Her husband was deathly pale. His eyes stared and bulged from their sockets. The car keys were in one hand. He was still using the other to shake her, although her eyes were open. It was as if he hadn’t been able to register the fact that she was awake.
“Charlie, what is it? What’s wrong?”

My dad introduced me to the horror and thriller genres. He was always braver than I, but we would watch The Twilight Zone, Tales from the Crypt, and Tales from The Dark Side. We also loved when Stephen King’s books were made into mini-series. I hadn’t yet read any of his books  at that time, but I LOVED being scared out of my wits by It and The Tommy-Knockers on t.v. We never missed the chance to watch The Running Man if it came on TNT or even Silver Bullet with Gary Busey in his pre-scary-mugshot days.

In spring of 1994, The Stand premiered as the newest sweeps week miniseries. I absolutely ADORED the miniseries (I had a crush on Gary Sinise), and my dad and I agreed that we should probably read the novel now. He picked up a copy so that I would have something to read on my Library Club field trip to Washington, DC.

Great jumping cats! What a doorstop of a book!

But as the buses pulled out of the parking lot of Mansura Middle School, I propped myself up with a pillow and put my Walkman headphones on (Jurassic Park film soundtrack blaring). I followed the Campions–Charlie and Sally and baby LaVon–out of Nevada, running from the superflu that accidentally managed to escape its test tube and kill every single person on the base. But the Campions–they were infected, too.

When I read the book 20 years ago, I found myself more interested in the first “act” of the book–the spreading of the illness, meeting characters like Stu from Texas, Frannie from Maine, and Larry “Baby Can You Dig Your Man” Underwood from NYC. I cannot leave out the two characters who represent absolute “Good” and “Evil”: Mother Abagail and Randal Flagg. (King often likes to have absolutes in his stories, almost like the old westerns with the White-hat-hero and the Black-hat-villain).

My 14 year-old-self was almost bored by the time the “good” survivors had established the Free Zone of Boulder and the “evil” survivors had moved in Vegas to do the bidding of Randall Flagg. Though many people didn’t, I loved the Deus Ex Machina ending, perhaps because I remember my childhood being filled with stories like that–Death Stars exploding and DeLoreans making it up to 88 mph and four nerdy guys crossing the streams and killing the giant-marshmallow-deamon.

In 2009, a comic book version of the tale landed on shelves and as this was around the time that I had taken an interest in comics, I picked these up, too. While I found them enjoyable, I think they take something away from what I like most about reading a Stephen King novel–using the power of my own imagination to imagine the horrors that he describes.

Now, 20 years after hefting open the giant tome on a charter bus ride to DC, I purchased the Kindle version for my re-read. I enjoy the feel of turning pages, but my decade-long job in a coffee shop has done a number on my wrists. I chose this time to let the weight of the story itself supersede the weight of the ACTUAL book.

I’ve probably read about 15 Stephen King books and short stories since The Stand, but the narrative-style in this novel still grabs me. Chapter 8, in particular is quite astounding. The way King describes the ever-so-easy spread of Captain Tripps (the name of the super-flu), in the course of a 6-page chapter is absolutely one of the neatest things that I have ever read.

There are so many movies, novels, comics, and video games these days that focus on post-apocalyptic dystopias. The zombie and pandemic genres have really taken off in the past decade or so and it’s an interesting reflection on what we as audience members crave to ingest. A friend of mine once said that a good zombie story isn’t about the zombies at all, but rather how the humans react, respond, and survive.

During this reading, I found myself still interested in the same characters as before, but some that I initially ignored now spoke to me more clearly. For example, Glen Bateman, a community college sociology teacher and amateur philosopher sums my friend’s zombie-story-philosophy idea rather well and always says interesting thing.

As I’ve grown older I find myself drawn more to nostalgia, and while 20 years ago I was more interested in Fran’s journal full of her crush on Stu, I now love that she also ended each entry with a list of “things to remember,” like bands that were popular and ads that were predominant and slang terms that kids would use to describe things that were cool. I suppose now, with the digital archiving of Twitter,  as long as the servers hold, we will have access to our own “things to remember.” But what if the archives don’t hold? Fran’s journal seems that more important.

Speaking of Twitter, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about how different things are now than when The Stand was published. While things weren’t exactly stone-age in 1978 (Star Wars and Ataris, man!), social media, smart phones and the Internet were quite a few years away. Most homes now don’t even have landlines and we use wireless Internet, and our televisions are tuned into satellites.

What happens if all of that were to just go away?

Other forms of media have addressed this possibility.  One of my OTHER favorite novels these days is World War Z by Max Brooks, and I think it makes a fine companion read to The Stand. I think that King addresses the issue just as coherently though, and years before our “softening through social media” (as a character like Ralph might suggest).

King has said that The Lord of the Rings books inspired his writing of The Stand, and even goes so far as to quote from the books when Larry and Rita, his first companion traveler, leave New York City.

“The way leads ever on…”

I see this more now. There are characters that are somewhere in the gray areas and some that start off not-so-great who end up being pretty swell–Larry Underwood for example. However, Good vs. Evil and an epic battle between the two can still be considered the underlying theme.

20 years since I picked up this book. So much has happened. The Twin Towers. Saddam and Bin Laden are dead, but we still have Drones. No world peace, yet, it would seem.

20 years of my own life passed. High School and College. My dad passing away. Marriage.

20 years of technological achievement in filmmaking to create new stories or make old ones come to life anew–The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter. LOST (the latter FREQUENTLY drew from The Stand by the way).

E-books. Heck, between digital publishing and Project Gutenberg, more people have access to THOUSANDS of published works with a few clicks or typed search-parameters.

20 years and perspective and experience.

I think more now on Bateman and Ralph, and what lessons we learn from them. I think of Stu and Frannie still, but not in a giggly-romance sort of way. I think of them as the helpmates they became to each other.

I was initially going to write about Harold Lauder and how his ledger of those who wronged him reminded me so much of that man in California who killed all of those people, but I will just touch on it by saying that we should all recognize rising above that. No one owes us anything, but we owe to ourselves to be the best individuals that we can be.

These are the things that I have taken away from this reading of The Stand.

My original copy was a paperback and it has long since been demolished by re-reading and lending. I am glad that I have an e-copy in my Kindle Library, right along with The Shining and It. On my bookshelf however, I have a wonderful hardcover reprinting, with added notes and forwards and the additional text that was added after the 1978 first-printing. It sits next to The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Jurassic Park.

Noel’s Things to Remember:
— The internet was once REALLY slow, and if someone picked up the phone you were going to have fightin-words.
— There were things called “memes” and things called “.gifs” and places called Reddit and 4chan and Tumblr where we filled our time when we should be writing blogs about novels we once read.
–Good narrative is important, and a good story along WITH it makes for a tale that can be revisited.
–Happiness is there or it is not, but Security, and Trust, and Contentment, even during adversity–those are what we NEED.

Amen. May I be here to take The Trip(p) again, in another 20 years, with even MORE perspective.

Noel's photo

***

Noel Smith needs to read, write, and go out more. She enjoys Pop Culture, Disney Theme Park and Company History, and watching Criterion movies with her husband. She’s slightly clumsy, so she chose to improve her posture with the hardback of The Stand while she re-read it using an e-reader. She thanks Em for this chance to write again, and misses their days watching Curling matches and quality films such as Breakin’. The rest is for Jim.

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Technology Resistant

It’s time for a new post. Beyond time, probably. I stand by my accordion post, but I got a few emails about that one. LOL. Eh, at least you’re writing me.

So I recently described myself as technology resistant. I should clarify that I understand most technologies, especially the ones I need to become accustomed to as a writer and for jobs. You’re looking at the product of one, actually. And, I was a squealy squealy girl when my friend Mel plugged a dohicky cord into my MP3 player, attaching it to her car radio and we got to drive around South Louisiana to my favorite songs. Her iPhone is pretty fantastic, actually. She can solve trivia disputes, find the times for movies, get directions, play music, etc., all with a single tool.

I resist, resist, reeeeeeesiiiiisssst the iPhone, however. I acknowledge its greatness and this is WHY I resist it. Once you pop, you can’t stop. Every iPhone owner I know tells me this and I take one look at it’s glittery goodness and I know. I will be come THAT person, the one none of us can stand, who is addicted to technology and helpless without it. I purposefully buy the cheapest, least glorious phone I can find and limit all the bells and whistles. And you know, as much as I complained about my basic red Samsung, I have dropped that thing a million times and it’s still going strong. It’s so dinged, cracked and scratched nobody would steal it. I took that thing to Europe, to Russia, to New York and back. It did the trick.

And what about cell phones? It used to be, you screened calls if you didn’t want to talk to someone. “Oh, I wasn’t home.” But there is something about my cell phone answering that urges a Pavlovian response. I can’t bear to ignore the call. And I feel like, if I miss a call, I must respond very quickly. Texts have to be returned asap. I’m connected. Some of the happiest moments are when I forget my phone at home or in my car, except then I’m worried my car will break down and I can’t call for help…

The thing is, folks, I can’t even remember phone numbers anymore. I’m entirely reliant on the pre-programed numbers in my phone. I can remember two of my best friends’ parents’ phone numbers from like 10 years ago with barely any prompting, but I can’t tell you my last boyfriend’s phone number. Or my best friend’s. If I should upgrade to a shiny iPhone, how much more helpless and dependent will I become?

The other day, I struggled for 20 minutes to find phone numbers for a friend using Google, etc. I got the wrong person when I did find a potential number and she promptly opened up her phone book and gave me several helpful numbers. Her phone book. You know, old school, a book. That thing the phone company throws on your porch periodically.

Are we capable of keeping our McGuyver-like, practical, real-world skills as we allow machines to further simplify our lives? Somehow I doubt it.

Another friend (you shall remain safely anonymous) recently asked me sheepishly, “What does LMAO mean again?” We’re not even 30, so don’t call us fuddy-duddies, but the thing is, everything is changing so much faster now due to technology. Sometimes, that’s a cool thing. But more often, it’s bewildering. I find myself saying old-fashioned things like, “Can you turn that down? Do you know correct English? WHAAAAT?!!” quite often. I dream of cabins in the woods without electricity and plumbing, then I kinda shake myself and wonder, “But what would I DO? I’d miss Bones and American Idol. I couldn’t write after it got dark. And outhouses??”

I’m the girl who’s almost desperate to go on Survivor and has confessed to friends that I’d like to be turned into What Not to Wear (Stacy would kill me), except I don’t want to be on t.v. I don’t want my 15 minutes of fame, my blogger stardom. I remember thinking, as a kid, that one of the best things about being a writer was that, unless you were Stephen King, everyone could know your work and not know your face. It was possible for your name to be famous, but you could also go to the grocery store unaccosted. We’re all competing in a super-saturated market.

So how do we market ourselves and our work and still lead private lives? That IS the question. This world is getting faster and smaller and to me, often, scarier.

Take Google Earth, for instance. Ohhhh. Yesterday, I walked up to one of my neighbors at Cheers and he waved me closer to look at his computer screen. And there was… our street. My front door. Satellite images (not real-time, thank goodness) of our street. Up close and personal. It was cool, but I felt a wave of terror and revulsion. I got a bit distracted, back at my own table, by plugging every address from my address book into Google Earth. I was fascinated and really, really creeped out. And you know what? With every address I checked, except for one, I could see front doors, yards, cars, whole streets outside their houses like I was going to visit for lunch.

When did we stop asking, “Just because we can — should we?”

And structured controls of things like satellite imaging and say cloning can get scary too, cause then we’re looking at Big Government, Big Brother type situations. So I guess it comes down to each of us choosing to make active decisions. To try to remember phone numbers, to stop morbidly typing in every address we know into Google Earth. Hesitate. What’s wrong with that? Take your time. We don’t have to jump into everything without thinking about it first, evaluating how it makes us feel, how it may change our lives.

Sigh. So this post all came together because I accidentally got AIM. I signed up for a MapQuest account so I could save my searches and apparently, simultaneously signed up for AIM. This entire blog/rant began there and then I remembered everything that’s happened recently that also pinged the same technology anxieties.

How do we have a private life these days? Between MyFace (let’s go ahead and add AIM, OkCupid, Twitter into all of that) and Google Earth and our iPhones. Everything is connected and some days, that can be great. But it can get problematic. I’m looking for a job right now. All a prospective employer needs to do is type my name into a search engine and this blog comes right up. Perhaps my MySpace, as well. Instantly, they read this latest post “technology resistant” and they’re uncertain whether I can work a fax machine (I can), scan (yep) or probably even type (fastest fingers in the southeast, folks). Maybe they’re resistant to hiring me because I’m technology resistant.

The consequences of everything are harder to escape because the world is small and faster. There’s nothing wrong with being careful, using our problem-solving and analytical abilities to work out what feels right for us, how and when we’re going to invest in the McMyFace world.

Another thing that sparked this blog for me was watching a slideshow of “weird news images” and seeing a picture of a robot acting in a play with a woman. This isn’t where I saw it, but where I found it, second image down. Let me know what you think.

The whole technology issue is brought up in He’s Just Not That Into You, by Drew Barrymore’s character. Her technology stress and anxiety is eerily spot on, very valid. Also, watch the hysterical Top 10 Cliches (under videos) that has three of the male actors (Justin Long, Bradley Cooper and Kevin Connolly) playing girls in cliche romantic comedy scenarios. Very, very funny.

Also, from a little while ago (and wordsmith.org), A THOUGHT FOR TODAY: Myth: we have to save the earth. Frankly, the earth doesn’t need to be saved. Nature doesn’t give a hoot if human beings are here or not. The planet has survived cataclysmic and catastrophic changes for millions upon millions of years. Over that time, it is widely believed, 99 percent of all species have come and gone while the planet has remained. Saving the environment is really about saving our environment – making it safe for ourselves, our children, and the world as we know it. If more people saw the issue as one of saving themselves, we would probably see increased motivation and commitment to actually do so. -Robert M. Lilienfeld, management consultant and author (b. 1953) and William L. Rathje, archaeologist and author (b. 1945)

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Blogging, am now a blogger, wow, wouldn’t have imagined that phrase coming out of my mouth 15 years ago

Hi folks,

My name is Emilie. You don’t know me yet, but I’m a soon-to-be published, fabulously famous writer finishing my novel and working in New Orleans. To be honest, I don’t know how famous I want to be. I remember thinking, when I was younger, that the good thing about being a writer is that your words, your worlds, are famous but you are not. You can still go to the grocery store and not be accosted. That used to be the sad, beautiful thing about being a writer. Stephen King, JK Rowling, YouTube, MyFace and hundreds of reality t.v. shows later, this is not always the case. Writers are stars (and yes, some always were) and people are even famous just for being famous.

So that’s my way of saying I’m ambivalent about blogging. Primarily because of delicious little trainwrecks like this: Emily Gould Blogs All

I jumped into the Internet in a big way between the ages of about 16-19. Built a website, wrote fanfic and made dozens of friends I’d never actually met in person. I had people emailing me about an alternate history soap opera I was writing about Anastasia and the last of the Romanovs, and I wrote roleplay scenarios based on the characters of LJ Smith. I was a huge dork and I loved it. But then I went to college and next thing you know, classes and new friends I could actually hug took over my life. I asked my roleplaying co-writer to take over my character temporarily and then later to gracefully kill her off. And I moved on.

But the Internet’s been calling me back ever since. I joined LiveJournal because my boyfriend at the time and all of our friends were on it. Enjoyed the hell out of that, but always felt a little queasy about it too. Next thing you know, everybody was on MySpace and wanted me to talk to them there. So I joined up, but hardly used my account until slowly but surely I was always there and never on LiveJournal. And the progression went on with Facebook. Collectively, I shall call these “online social networks” MyFace.

I’ve discovered they’re useful. For keeping up with friends when I’m exceptionally busy and for getting the word out about my writing and events (and those of my friends). They also create a weird distance that must be bridged. For instance, it worries me when it’s easier to write a little note on my friend’s wall than to call them to say hello. Sure, I live in a new city and am away from the bulk of my friends, but that’s what phones were invented for, yes? And we’ll talk later about the tragic death of the letter.

So this blog will be about things I find interesting, the status of my writing and what it’s like to be in New Orleans. When I sell my book, I’ll break the news here. When it’s about to be published, I’ll harass everyone here to buy it. When I’m coming to your town, the schedule will be here. And when I’m engrossed in something cool like say, oh, Post Secret, I’ll let you know with a little link like so: http://postsecret.blogspot.com/

I will not overshare about personal issues. For that, you’ll have to call me and/or buy me a drink. But I think I’m about ready to be *my kind* of blogger. Let’s see, shall we?

-Jill of All Trades, Master of One aka Emilie

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