Stephen King writes about his own short stories in ‘Everything’s Eventual’

Hi and welcome to The Green Castle. 🙂

Some of Stephen King’s non-fiction about writing in general and his own writing in particular is what I really enjoy re-reading, out of all his work. In the early 1980s, Danse Macabre presented many intriguing insights about his personal history of loving and raising himself  among Horror stories and a more specific delight in storytelling through movies. As a bonus, he describes the Golden Age of drive-in movie theatres that ahs become a fairly faint memory for even many ‘Generation X’ readers, including this blogger. 🙂  Even back in the early ’80s, and the ’70s, when his then-editor first suggested the idea for this book at a time when King was ‘only’ four or five books into his now-legendary career, King’s knowledge of Horror was encyclopaedic in detail and scope. His love of it was already all-absorbing. For me as a reader, easily the best feature of the book is that the writing was and remains very accessible – very informed yet still had and had an easy-going aspect to it. In his own words:  “…I hope you have some fun with this book. Nosh and nibble at the corners or read the mother straight through, but enjoy”. Now that is unlikely to ever be confused with the introduction to a super-serious thesis. 🙂

Many years after that book, his On Writing memoir, which keeps being cited as a ‘modern classic’ about the writer’s craft, certainly rewards a lot of re-reading, partly because he is still willing to laugh at himself a lot and also be easy-going and candid about how he describes his own early life. Later, the accident and his process of living with the recovery also includes flashes of humour among the grimaces. His wife, Tabitha, and the kids, also get occasional very heartfelt mentions and there is no doubt just how much he realises he is indebted to his wife for staying through a lot of not-good-at-all times. For this post, though, I’m singling out his early-2000s collection of short stories, Everything’s Eventual, in which he also provides a really interesting range of personal commentaries about the stories. I’ll write about the stories themselves in a later post.

Firstly, imagine for a moment that you’re at a writers’ festival and in one panel session that includes a favourite writer -I’ll call them The Writer just for easy reference – and you get the chance to hear their personal ‘take’ on the experience/s behind specific stories and why they just “had to” write them, even if the stories didn’t find a market any time soon or win a competition. On the day of that panel session, The Writer is every bit as entertaining as you hoped when booking your festival ticket. You learn that there was no getting around the fact that a specific story idea had entrenched itself in The Writer’s mind and wouldn’t get out unless and until written out onto a page or screen. The Writer does have the ‘gift of the gab’ to a fair extent, and plenty of past festival experience, so they seem at ease with the audience and happy to share some tales about the writer’s life as they see it . It is one of those Ideal Writers’ Festival experiences you can take away with you and happily remember on your way home and later still, when reading their next story or hearing them in an interview, reading a column they’ve done for a magazine or simply checking out their author blog or website if they have one (King himself does have an online presence, at: http://www.stephenking.com/index.html).

Keep that image in mind but now add this scenario: you saw in some writer’s news updates you get that The Writer was going to be at ‘that’ writers’  festival as a panel member and do long signing sessions, one-on-one chat sessions for the festival’s website/on-site radio station/special magazine supplement, etc…but for one reason or another you just can’t get to it this year.  After coming to grips with that disappointment, you ask yourself: what is a ‘next best thing’ kind of option? Well, if you’re lucky, The Writer has actually written about their writing life and some specific books or favourite stories. So, while you’re house-bound until maybe the next year/the next festival, you can at least go to those comments/reflections/remarks within an interview and absorb yourself in the reading of them and enjoy what The Writer has given you in some form. Also, you  are giving yourself a personal (albeit imaginary) panel session experience featuring The Writer presenting their gems of self-deprecating humour and hard-earned wisdom…with a pretty good consolation prize that, clueless family members/brash guests/hungry pets aside, no total jerk or pushy bitch will cut in at random with their own self-glorifying comment and/or trivial question that breaks the flow of words and you won’t have to witness the  panel’s MC not managing to convince them to shut up and sit down or leave early.

OK, time to go to the book itself and give a few short examples of what I’ve been talking about. 🙂

Introduction: ‘Practising the (Almost) Lost Art: “…[I] have run a lot of language through the 2.2-pound organic computer/word processor I hang my Red Sox cap on”[p.xi] – on his decades of writing experience, not kidding himself about offering something profoundly new, yet having some confidence his own take on things could be worth considering. Plus, on the value of the Short Story as a form of story-telling: “…the equivalent of one of those one-of-a-kind items you can buy in an artisan’s shop”[p.xvi];

for the story ‘Autopsy Room Four’: “at some point I think every writer of scary stories has to tackle the subject of premature burial, if only because it seems to be such a pervasive fear”[p.30];

for the title story, ‘Everything’s Eventual’:  “it [the story] came out smoothly and without a singe hesitation, supporting my idea that stories are artifacts: not really made things which we create (and can take credit for), but things wich we dig up”[p.235]

for the story ‘Lunch at the Gotham Cafe’: “For me what makes it [the story] go isn’t the crazy maitre’d but the spooky relationship between the divorcing couple. In their own way, they’re crazier than he is. By far.”[p.360]

for the story ‘1408’, which started out as a ‘this is one possible way to start writing a new story’ kind of exercise in the On Writing book: “…In any case, let’s check in, shall we? Here’s your key…and you might take time to notice what those four innocent numbers add up to.”[p.424]

Happily, I suggest, Stephen King’s comments about the stories in the Everything’s Eventual collection are as close as you might reasonably get to a next-best-thing personal chance to ‘hear’ his wry and seasoned take on story-telling. 🙂

*For this blog post, I am using the Hodder&Stoughton/Hodder headline edition, Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales, published in 2002. The cited Danse Macabre edition is also from Hodder, in 1981.

Fantastic verses: some collections of Speculative Poems

Hello again. 🙂

While I was having fun browsing various dealer tables and stalls at Worldcon in Chicago last year (Chicon7), I discovered some fine and intriguing collections  of poems among all the anthologies, novels and books about Speculative Fiction. I ended up buying four different collection of poems: two solo collections and two anthologies. I’ll give a brief overview of each book and, for the first three, a short note about the respective poets. The anthology has its own list of biographical notes and there are too many individual poets to reasonably cover in this post. Each book title will also show publisher/s and year of first or publication of  most recent/current edition.

Robot: poetry by Jason Christie (Edge, 2006&2007):  a collection of Science Fiction poems focussed on various features of robots, the possible nature of robot existence and troubled relations between robots and humans. This collection is full of intriguing and sometimes disturbing ideas and scenarios about what robots mean, have meant and could later mean to people and ‘each other’. For me, the overall feel of the poems is a bit closer to the darker stories of Ray Bradbury than to Asimov’s cheery confidence in the Laws of Robotics. Christie’s robots seem to have little patience for being held strictly accountable.

Robot is published by published by a Canadian firm: Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing, based in Calgary. Within the past decade, Jason Christie has been making a name for himself as an avant-garde Canadian poet.

The Animal Bridegroom, by Sandra Kasturi (Tightrope Books, 2007): Strongly inspired by myths, Northern-European folklore and many dark dreams at night, American-Canadian Sandra Kasturi’s first poetry collection offers some bizarre and beguiling tales in a variety of verse forms. There isn’t a single ‘title poem’ poem, as such, but from my reading the title was inspired by various themes that run through the collection. The poems are gathered in four sections, each with its own set of tales and imagery:  ‘Into the Woods’, then ‘Lying with Wolves’, on to ‘Spells and Enchantments’ and finally ‘The Unbinding’ of Spirits’.

Two of the stand-out poems for me are ‘Estonian Witches’ (p.22) in the first section and ‘Frankenstein’s Monster’s Wife’s Therapist is Happy'(p.64; after I heard the poet read this at one of the panel sessions I attended, I was ‘sold’ on getting a copy to take home) in the third section. For me, both these poems show a sly humour in the way Kasturi  presents her ideas and in how she plays with traditions and stereotypes about Witches and the mythology that has built up around Mary Shelley’s novel. I’ll also mention ‘The Birch Tree’ (p.20), for its sparse, clean and beautiful imagery.

The author note at the end includes: an impressive resume of awards and creative projects in a variety of media, founding member of a poetry workshop group, does work as an editor and publisher (Kelp Queen Press, based in Toronto) in addition to being a poet with a mix of Estonian and Sri Lankan family backgrounds.

Ancient Tales, Grand Deaths and Past Lives: a collection of speculative verse by Colleen Anderson (Kelp Queen Press, 2001): this collection ventures into and in between Fantasy and Science Fiction worlds in the poet’s exploration of  various human concerns in the contexts of mythical or non-Earth settings and various eras. This isn’t a comforting collection, by any stretch, but it does offer plenty of concepts and images well worth re-visiting and musing over with other readers as well as on your own.

As in Kasturi’s own collection described above, Anderson very effectively uses a variety of verse lengths and patterns to tell her stories and challenge readers’ sensitivities.  The moods I came across range from pensiveness to revulsion, with a fair bit of sombre reflection and regret along the way.    

The biographical note at the end of book includes: writing plays, doing Performance Poetry, workshop presenter at Clarion West, raising ‘slime creatures’, bookshop buyer and being the pet human for a cat called Figment.

The Stars As Seen from this Particular Angle of Night: an anthology of speculative verse, edited by Sandra Kasturi (Red Deer Press/Bakka, 2003):  at the stall where I found this book in the gigantic Dealers’ Room at Worldcon, this anthology quickly stood out as one that had a huge and fascinating  range of topics and poets, making it an ideal choice as a kind of survey of Canadian speculative poems. The Editor’s Foreward and a different poet’s Introduction give some interesting context for how the collection  was assembled, who is represented in it and why it can be considered a significant addition to Speculative poetry, especially (but not exclusively, as shown in the biographical notes at the end) written by Canadian poets.

A very brief look through the subjects of various poems written in an interesting variety of tones and using many different rhythms: imaginary cities; poetry likened to black holes; a personal look at the Shahrazad character as supreme and dangerous story-teller; a geometrical analogy applied to a troubled marriage; naming a starship; invisible geese and magicians’ tricks; spectral ships; android sex show; a witch meditates on her imminent burning.  Poem lengths range from a very short eight lines for Carolyn Clink’s super-compressed epic in ‘Stars’ (p.43) to several pages for Jason Taniguchi’s expansive prose-poem set, ‘The Genre in Brief (100-words stories)'(pp.81-86).  

I highly recommend all these books of Speculative Poems. 🙂

An anthology series worth following

Greetings and peace to all visitors at The Green Castle today!

I’m very keen on themed anthologies of short stories, mainly because of the varieties of reading adventures they offer and I also enjoy reading the contributing authors’ biographical profiles. And those of the editors and cover-design artist/s. 🙂 Yes, I do also dream of being one of those authors some day myself, and having a really weird out-of-body kind of experience if a friend or family member shows me that certain profile in a book they picked up. 🙂

In the five years – more or less – since I really started “getting into” speculative fiction, I’ve noticed that it seems especially suited for the format of The Themed Anthology – they are consistently popular at conventions and in bookshops, and the range keeps expanding while also always keeping room for the classics – e.g the annual Hugo and Nebula Awards shortlists covering various categories. Well, I guess Arabian Nights would be one early example of a famous anthology, with a a very personal motive for compiling it and a moving deadline. 🙂

So now I’d like to mention that one of the on-going series of Australian-edited and produced anthologies I’ve enjoyed is the Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction & Fantasy. This series has been and continues to be edited by Bill Congreve and Michelle Marquardt for MirrrorDanse Books, a specialist publisher of Science Fiction, Horror and Dark Fantasy. I’ve collected volumes #2 through 5 so far (usually at conventions such as ‘Conflux’ in Canberra) and have been really impressed with the variety and standard on offer in each volume.  Keep a look-out for the authors’ names – it is in this kind of anthology that many new great writers emerge and established stars keep shining.

At the back of the Year’s Best volumes, the lists of Recommended Reading and sources the editors used for finding their choices for  best stories make for interesting extra features. These accumulating lists, I suggest, will prove to be a very valuable archive of what has been and  – for as long as authors keep writing and dedicated editors keep searching and compiling – can yet be achieved in and by the Australian Speculative Fiction community.

For more information about the anthologies and the publication side of things, I recommend visiting the MirrorDanse website: http://www.tabula-rasa.info/MirrorDanse/.

Happy reading! 🙂

Tim/’timatgreencastle’