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  • Jeff Somers 9:04 pm on 2016/11/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , inspiration, , , , , stephen king,   

    Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors 

    It’s that time of year again, the magical, horrible month when authors, aspiring and otherwise, attempt to write an entire novel in 3o days. Some do NaNoWriMo for the challenge, some do it to finally check write novel off of their bucket lists, and some do it just for the experience. Whatever your reasons, it’s always one of the most difficult and most rewarding writing exercises of the year.

    NaNoWriMo is like a marathon: it requires a lot of inspiration to get you over the finish line. This can come in many forms, but every writer knows that fiction itself is the most nourishing thing a writer can take in. Here are five novels about fictional authors that have something to teach anyone trying to crank out a novel-length story between now and November 30.

    Atonement, by Ian McEwan
    Lesson: Fiction is Powerful Stuff

    Spoilers ahead!
    McEwan’s twisty novel tells the tale of Briony Tallis, bestelling author. As a child, Briony commits a terrible act that impacts those around her in awful ways. As time goes by, however, the victims of her immature mistakes recover and go on to live their lives, although they refuse to forgive Briony even as she declares her intentions to do what she can to make things right. The final, devastating twist reveals that Briony has been writing the story all along, and rewriting history to make it happier—in real life her victims never recovered and died young, unfulfilled. The lesson in Briony’s deception is dark and powerful: your experiences are just the inspiration for your stories. Dark or not, the things that inspire you to write don’t have to be rendered accurately. As a writer, you can change everything to suit your purpose, so don’t hesitate to embellish, deceive, and omit.

    Breakfast of Champions, by Kurt Vonnegut
    Lesson: Novels Change Lives
    Kurt Vonnegut was a writer who somehow combined not taking himself seriously with powerful writing that still sparks arguments to this day. In Breakfast of Champions, Vonnegut’s alter-ego, writer Kilgore Trout (who appears in many of Vonnegut’s stories), travels to a low-rent convention in Ohio, where he’s destined to meet an insane fan who believes Trout’s speculative fiction is real. Vonnegut uses this premise, as always, to explore free will and existence in various absurd and darkly humorous ways, but the takeaway for anyone who finds themselves depressed and frustrated on, say, day thirteen of NaNoWiMo, is simple: what you write is like wild magic. Once it’s released into the world, you have no control over how it will affect other people. That sort of crackling, electric possibility should inspire anyone to finish what they’ve started.

    The Ghost Writer, by Philip Roth
    Lesson: Think Before You Write

    Nathan Zuckerman may be Roth’s greatest creation, an author avatar who remains fascinating throughout nine novels. In the first of the Zuckerman Opus, Nathan struggles with something all writers should think about: balancing honesty with artistry. As Nathan struggles with the fallout from writing about his own Jewish community in a negative way (prompting questions of his responsibility to not fan the flames of anti-Jewish sentiment versus his need to be honest in his writing), every author working on a NaNoWriMo book should take the hint and ask themselves some honest questions about their inspiration, motivation, and how their work might affect their intimates and the community around them.

    The Dark Half, by Stephen King
    Lesson: Don’t Shy Away from Darkness

    Writing is confessional. In fact, the more you attempt to obscure the personal demons and angels that inspire your work, the more artificial it will seem to readers. King’s horror novel is, on the one hand, the story of a writer whose public works don’t sell well, but whose trashy crime novels written under a pseudonym sell like hotcakes. When he “kills off” his pseudonym, however, his dark half seems to come to life and launch a violent killing spree. You’ll have to read the book to find out if he’s crazy or if there’s some other explanation, but the takeaway for a NaNoWriMo writer is this: don’t fight your true muse. If there’s daylight between the books you think you should be writing and the books you’re actually inspired to write, use this month to indulge your id and just write whatever your Dark Half wants to write. You’ll be amazed how easy writing suddenly becomes.

    Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon
    Lesson: Just Finish It

    Chabon, inspired by his own out-of-control manuscript, offers up Grady Tripp, a writer who has been working on his second novel for seven years, amassing more than 2,500 manuscript pages. That Grady Tripp should be the patron saint of NaNoWriMo might not be obvious; after all, the point of this month is to finish a novel. But reading about Grady’s increasingly disorganized and hectic life is precisely the sort of inspiration you need, because in a sense that unfinished novel is the cause of all of Tripp’s problems. Reading Wonder Boys right before NaNoWriMo will offer up all the inspiration you need to ensure that on Day 30, you’ll be typing THE END instead of allowing your novel to spiral off into a madness of endless revisions.

    The post Get Ready for National Novel Writing Month with 5 Fictional Authors appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Kat Rosenfield 7:30 pm on 2016/08/09 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , stephen king   

    6 Stephen King Adaptations to Watch Now (or Get Stoked For) 

    Stephen King is one of the world’s most prolific authors — but even he can’t write fast enough to satisfy the appetites of his biggest fans. Fortunately, there’s an answer for that: the ever-expanding collection of King books that were, are, or will be adapted for movies or television.

    Although many a Stephen King novel, novella, or short story has found its way to screens big and small over the years, the author is having arguably his biggest moment in Hollywood yet. Two fresh adaptations of his work are available for your viewing pleasure right this minute, and another four are coming down the pike. Below, we’ve rounded up all the titles getting some well-deserved screen buzz.

    The story of a signal, sent via cell phone, that turns everyone who hears it into part of a murderous hive mind, Cell features an all-star cast that includes The Hunger Games‘ Isabelle Fuhrman; it also stars John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson reteaming up for their second King movie (they starred together in 1408, adapted from a short story in Everything’s Eventual, back in 2007.) Out on demand and in select theaters now, Cell had a rocky road from conception to screen—but as adaptations of King’s novels go, it’s not a bad little movie, particularly in a signature moment involving a gasoline truck and a snoozing flock of phone zombies.

    This terrifying tale of seven tweens who reunite as adults to battle an unspeakable, ancient evil was adapted once already as a TV miniseries—which unfortunately failed to age well, making the upcoming release of a new It a timely entry on the pop culture landscape (not to mention the perfect way to introduce a whole new generation to a well-founded phobia of clowns.) This time, the giant book is being split into two feature films, the first of which hits theaters in September 2017. Fun fact: kid actor Finn Wolfhard, who was so awesome as the wide-eyed hero of the very ’80s, very King-inspired Stranger Things, is part of this production, too.

    The Dark Tower
    After stagnating forever in development, this year brought some big news for fans of King’s magnum opus fantasy series: amovie is finally in the making, and some serious stars are being brought on board. The first of what will hopefully be many movies set in the Dark Tower alternaworld, where Gunslinger Roland Deschain (played by Idris Elba) hunts the appallingly evil figure known only as the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), is slated for a 2017 release.

    The Stand
    The good news is, King’s epic postapocalyptic novel about a flu epidemic that wipes out 99% of the American population is being developed into a feature film—or two, or maybe even four. The bad news is, the adaptation is in a holding pattern while filmmakers try to figure out how (and whether) to break up the mega-long book into multiple movies, or whether to start it out on TV and segue into a feature-length film, or…well, the options are limitless, and that’s part of the problem. However, there may be one bright side to the delays: By the time the movie gets made, Matthew McConaughey might be available to take on the role of villain Randall Flagg (because as any Stephen King fan worth his salt knows, Flagg and the Man in Black should really be played by the same fellow.)

    While The Stand sits in limbo, its scriptwriter isn’t sitting still. Josh Boone, personally selected by Stephen King to pen the movie adaptation of The Stand, has already gone ahead and begun developing another of the author’s novels: Revival, a terrifying story of religious fanaticism, scientific experimentation, and two men battling different kinds of demons. There’s no studio attached to the script yet, but considering Boone’s clout in Hollywood (he also directed The Fault in Our Stars), you’ll likely be seeing it in theaters sooner rather than later.

    King’s brick of a novel about a 21st-century schoolteacher who goes back in time to stop the assassination of JFK is a perfect encapsulation of why it’s so hard to adapt his books as feature films—and this TV serial take on 11/22/63 shows why the author’s sprawling plots and peculiar pacing are basically made for an eight-episode format. The Hulu original stars James Franco in a perfectly frantic performance as hero Jake Epping, and draws out the drama almost as well as its source material. (If you hurry, you can still catch this one for free before Hulu phases into its subscription-only model.)

  • Jeff Somers 8:30 pm on 2016/08/08 Permalink
    Tags: , , stephen king, syllabi,   

    5 Books that Come with a Required Reading List 

    Most of the time, reading a novel is pretty straightforward. Step one: pick up book. Step two: open book. Step three: read, and enjoy. Some novels, though, go beyond mere complexity and actually require you to be knowledgable in a certain area just to have hope of enjoying—or understanding—what’s on the page. These five books are perfect examples: if you’re going to read one of them, you’d be well advised to dig through a long list of required reading first, or you’ll miss out on half of what they have to offer.

    Silverlock, by John Myers Myers
    The only character in Myers’ fantasy who isn’t a famous figure from classic literature is the protagonist, A. Clarence Shandon, MBA. Hailing from Wisconsin, Shandon shipwrecks in the Commonwealth of Letters, where he is befriended by Golias and meets Pathfinder, Puck, Becky Sharp, Brian Boru, and dozens of other (hopefully) familiar names as he goes on an adventure that transforms him from a rather full-of-himself academic into a legend in his own right, nicknamed Silverlock. If you didn’t recognize every one of the names in the previous sentence, you’ll need to bone up on your literature and history before diving into this dazzling novel—every single reference is a play on famous and not-so-famous books, offering shades and deep dives that go far beyond the basic plot.

    The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
    In order to truly understand everything Fforde does in his excellent Thursday Next books, it would, first of all, help tremendously to be British, as many of Fforde’s references are specific to his home country, although attempts are made to Americanize them for U.S. audiences. Even more important for a book series set in a universe in which literature is as popular as superhero movies and is also something dynamic that has to be managed—often by jumping into the stories themselves—is the long list of novels you’ll need to bone up on if you’re to have any hope whatsoever of understanding the jokes, references, puns, and lampshadings that come at you fast and furious in this deft, intelligent metafictional masterpiece.

    Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl
    Every chapter in this impressive novel is named after another novel, and more literary references abound; the whole thing is structured like a college course, complete with voluminous footnotes. That alone requires that you do a lot of reading before diving in, but more importantly, Pessl includes plenty of references to works that don’t actually exist, making the novel even more absorbing as she transcends mere name-dropping to creating her own half-fictional literary world. If you’re going to be able to tell when she’d referencing a real work and when she’s created something purely for her novel, you’re going to have to have a pretty deep knowledge of novels, plays, and historical works at your disposal. Once you’ve done the reading, the central mystery of Pessl’s novel, set largely in a film studies department at a small college where the teacher dies by apparent suicide, becomes even more engrossing.

    Just About Every Stephen King Book Ever
    Stephen King has evolved from a purveyor of horror stories into a national institution, and his fiction has evolved right along with him, creating one of the most complex interrelated meta universes in history. Over the years, King has painstaking retrofitted all of his works into a single, awe-inspiring world. Characters and events are referenced in different novels, stories are tied together in surprising ways, and motifs and symbols appear in unexpected places. In fact, there are some beautiful (and complicated) infographics out there designed to clarify the whole King universe for you—although tracing the connections might require some time, patience, and a magnifying glass of some sort. The epicenter of King’s universe is definitely The Dark Tower series, which pulls in so many characters, events, and tropes from his other books that the King Metauniverse simply doesn’t make any sense without it.

    Gravity’s Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon
    The list of topics that you should have more than a glancing knowledge of in order to have half a chance with this novel includes statistics, world history, linguistics, and physics. And that’s just for starters. Even if you do go back to school and spend 10 years with your nose in various ancient tomes of forgotten lore, you still might not get everything that Pynchon is serving up here. Gravity’s Rainbow is one of those novels that divides people into two camps: those that think its genius even if they can’t quite get it all, and those who think it’s impenetrable. If you want to make up your own mind about it, though, you have to at least give yourself a fighting chance, and that means creating a lengthy syllabus and reading until you’re at least half as smart as Pynchon himself.


  • Jeff Somers 9:20 pm on 2016/05/31 Permalink
    Tags: , , stephen king,   

    New from Stephen King: End of Watch 

    Back in 2002, frustrated by his slow recovery from injuries sustained in a horrific accident, Stephen King informally announced his retirement from writing. That quickly proved to be a symptom of depression, and thank goodness, because some of King’s most interesting work has been produced in the last decade and a half—including his Bill Hodges Trilogy, beginning with Mr. Mercedes (which won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Novel) and followed by Finders Keepers and End of Watch.

    King billed this trilogy as his first foray into hardboiled detective fiction, and the first two books in the series justified that description. In End of Watch, however, King pulls off an amazing trick: he elegantly and effortlessly transforms his detective story into a classic supernatural Stephen King book. In fact, far from showing a readiness to retire, End of Watch proves that King is at the top of his game right now.

    Brady Hartsfield
    Brady Hartsfield is an amazing character. In Mr. Mercedes he was horrifying enough, a demented, broken man whose central tragedy was being just smart enough to cause mayhem, but never smart enough to truly succeed at anything. His vicious hatred is mixed with just enough dark genius to make him terrifying. At the end of Mr. Mercedes he seems to be out of the picture for good, but King patiently keeps him in the background throughout the second book—and that slow boil bears incredible fruit with the surprising and scary evolution he undergoes in End of Watch. Hartsfield’s journey in these books is classic King genius, taking someone unpleasant and frightening to begin with and slowly turning them into a monster directly from our shared nightmares.

    Life vs. Death
    For a man who has survived a near-death experience and is now pushing 70, it’s understandable that themes of mortality are cropping up in Stephen King’s books. One of the most interesting things about End of Watch is the way King makes suicide a central theme without being simplistic about it. Hartsfield at one point styles himself the Suicide Prince, but death is everywhere in this book, both literally and in the ways the characters navigate choices between life and death, choices that are never obvious or easy. The way main character Bill Hodges faces these challenges make his arc one of the best King has ever devised.

    The Little Things
    King’s always had a way with characters and setting in addition to having an incredible imagination. Where in his earlier work he often deluged the reader with details about the people and places his stories involved, his style has evolved to the point where he’s much more economical with those details—and it’s incredibly effective. Several details and seemingly minor point from this story and the two books that preceded it—the sort of details you initially assume are just there to flesh out characters or give the setting some spice—turn out to be vitally important both thematically and in terms of plotting, and King handles these details masterfully. Without spoiling anything, for example, Bill Hodges’ ringtone is a nifty but unimportant character point right up until it becomes something else entirely, both in terms of the mechanics of the final confrontation, but also in what Bill and Brady each represent—literally life and death.

    The Real World
    One of the greatest talents King has always possessed is the ability to write fantastic stories that are not only set in the “real” world that we all share, but feel like they’re in that world. Where other writers often wind up in a sort of hyper-reality or augmented-reality in order to make their fantastic ideas seem plausible, King is one of the few who can make the fantastic feel absolutely real. Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers had a few classic King touches of the supernatural, but in End of Watch King reveals these stories exist in the same universe as his other works, a universe where terrifying unnatural things can exist, can happen, but which feels indistinguishable in other ways from reality. It’s an amazing effect, especially if you’ve read the first two books in the trilogy.

    The Final Act
    End of Watch is 100% the final book in a trilogy. Not just the third book in a series featuring the same characters, but the third part of a larger story. All three books can be enjoyed by themselves, of course; each has a more-or-less standalone story. But reading them in order means you get what King is trying to achieve, because End of Watch builds on the themes and events of the first two books, and its that foundation that lets King pull off his transformation of the story from a hard-boiled detective tale to a horror novel that happens to have a hard-boiled detective as its protagonist. In short, this is that rare book series where the sum of its parts is greater than the individual books.

  • Jeff Somers 9:00 pm on 2016/05/05 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , stephen king, , , ,   

    6 Authors who Turned Uninspiring Careers into Grist for Their Stories 

    Anyone who has tried to make a living as a writer knows it’s hardly an easy road, and one piece of advice has held true since “working on that novel” became a thing: don’t quit your day job—even if you hate it. In addition to keeping you housed and fed, that day job hate can actually be a good thing—some famous novelists’ disastrous pre-fame careers directly informed their best work. Does this mean all aspiring novelists should seek out the worst jobs they can? Actually, maybe. As these six stories demonstrate, there’s gold to be mined from misery.

    Franz Kafka
    Insurance clerk
    Book: The Trial
    Franz Kafka was clearly not the world’s happiest person, and it’s easy to imagine part of that unhappiness had to do with his need to earn money, generally through a litany of depressing, uninspiring jobs. Kafka thought he could work as a clerk at an insurance company during the day and then have time to write at night—the fever dream of writers to this day—but slowly, the job took over his life, demanding more and more of his time. The Trial offers so many clear connections to the drudgery of endless bureaucracy, it’s clear we’ve all benefited from Kafka’s unhappy career.

    Kurt Vonnegut
    Managing a car dealership (badly)
    Book: Breakfast of Champions
    Kurt Vonnegut liked to joke that the reason he never received a Nobel Prize was due to his early, disastrous career managing the first Saab dealership in the United States. Under Vonnegut’s not so steady hand, the business came and went in less than 12 months, and it was years before Saab could mount a comeback effort. Of course, those early Saabs were much different (and much, much worse) than the modern models, so it might not have been entirely Vonnegut’s fault—but there’s no doubt much of his miserable experience at the dealership inspired parts of Breakfast of Champions and its deranged car dealer protagonist, Dwayne Hoover, offering a clear glimpse of day-job disaster being spun into gold.

    Roald Dahl
    Taste-testing chocolates
    Book: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
    There really are candies called gobstoppers, and they’ve been around since the late 19th century. Given that, it’s no surprise Dahl’s famous Everlasting Gobstopper is based on a favorite candy from his childhood. It is a little more surprising to learn Dahl worked as a taste-tester for Cadbury while he was at school, gobbling down chocolates and reporting his impressions. This led him to become a bit obsessed with the Cadbury factory, and he often imagined the “inventing room” where all the new candies were developed. It’s a short leap from a vague stomachache to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Okay, so maybe “child chocolate taste-tester” isn’t so much a failed career as an awesome career.

    Mitch Albom
    Musician and songwriter
    Book: The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
    Mitch Albom has succeeded first as a sports columnist and later as a novelist, but his first passion, and his first attempts at a career, were in the music industry. Now, “failure” is a strong term for a guy who has had a few songs recorded and even included in film soundtracks, but Albom himself is pretty frank about how his hopes for a career in music never came close to true success. He turned to writing instead, and his most recent novel, The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto, draws on his experience and knowledge of music in pretty obvious ways. It’s a book that probably wouldn’t exist if Albom hadn’t tried to make it as a musician—and failed.

    Stephen King
    High school janitor
    Book: Carrie
    It has been a long time since Stephen King needed to work for a living, but back in the mid-1970s, he was just like everyone else, struggling to get by with whatever jobs he could land. He worked as a janitor in a local high school, and while there’s no reason to think he wasn’t a fantastic custodial worker, his work mopping up after the kids obviously inspired his first published novel, Carrie. King’s on record about how his access to the girls’ showers inspired the opening scene of the novel—a book he almost threw away after it garnered a stack of rejections. We can thank his wife and (we assume) the fact that he hated working as a janitor for his decision to revise it one last time, with historic results.

    William Faulkner
    Book: Soldier’s Pay
    William Faulkner is one of our greatest novelists, but before he published his first book, Soldier’s Pay, he landed a gig as postmaster at the University of Mississippi, where he was famously terrible at his job. He was known to show up at odd hours, work on his novel while on the clock, and even purposely throw away mail. In 1924, he was forced to resign from his position, and penned a terse resignation letter that lives on in infamy, closing with the epic mic-drop: “I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp.” His debut novel, about the drudgery of a veteran’s return to daily life, includes a memorable passage snidely commenting on the folks who would show up to check if they had received mail, despite having no cause to think they had (this was before junk mail, obviously).

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