All 64 Stephen King Books, Rated

Since Carrie turns 40 this week, Vulture decided to rerun their complete ranking of all 64 Stephen King books (counting his three non-fiction books). I’m glad they did this, since I missed it the first time around. Also, I pretty much agree with this list. Oh, I might shuffle around the books within each five-book slide, but for the most part, they do a good job of pointing out what works and what doesn’t, and even when they criticize him, you can tell they’re reverent about it.

Hat tip:  io9

All 64 Stephen King Books Ranked and Reviewed

Inspiration Tuesday

Well, I have a few things to talk about for Inspiration Tuesday, today. First, I’m at work trying to keep the rash at bay but otherwise doing alright. I’m next to positive that it’s not contagious; I think my guinea pigs… err, roommates would have noticed by now. Still not sure what’s causing it, and the itching is only getting worse. In fact, the picture below, blatantly stolen from Weird Tales’ Facebook feed…

…is an example of how I’m afraid I’ll look after I’ve scratched my face off completely.

Inspiration has been showing up in the strangest places, lately, not just below the rock in my back yard where the writing Elves usually hide my week’s worth of ideas. This week’s story is about a street magician, and it’s a fantasy story in the sense that I always wanted to be at least a sleight-of-hand artist, if not a magician, when I was younger. (By younger, I’m including last Friday, when I found three balls of about juggling size and decided to show off to the cat. She still won’t speak to me.) And even though my efforts to learn to palm cards and double-deal and produce coins led to nothing more than my own image in the mirror doubling up and laughing at my practice, I kept trying, and kept thinking about it. A few days ago, a regular character strolled on to my stage, one with a rather tragic story that he was trying to escape from, and in her attempts to give him a backstory, my Muse found my old copy of Huggard and Braue’s Expert Card Technique and, well, poof, my character was made flesh.

In a way, I suppose it is like stage magic. I clasp my hands, smile, proclaim to the audience that I have nothing up my sleeves or between my ears, and then out of nothing, a group of people are walking and talking and sharing their stories with the rest of the world. Maybe I did learn sleight-of-hand after all.

Though I still would love to do a good Four Aces trick.

Monday Monday

As I’m sure you’re all breathlessly awaiting news of my, well, whatever it is, well, the fever’s up and the rash is spreading. And yes, I’m going to the doctor. Even though the last time I went I wound up getting drugged and lanced in a rather personal place, I’m sucking it up and going back. (So far the rash hasn’t spread anywhere I couldn’t show my mother. Or any place I might have already shown your mother. ::ducks:: Yes, folks, I’ll be here all year. Tip your servers.) The writing is still coming along and there will be a story out on Thursday, one way or another.

In the meantime, I’ve been stuck on a bit from one of Infinite Jest‘s footnotes. Orin Incandenza, a punter with a gifted leg who plays for the Arizona Cardinals (which, in the future, doesn’t just involve playing football, but such things as parachuting into the stadium dressed as a Cardinal… hopefully, my beloved Detroit Lions don’t get any such ideas…) makes the observation that most of Emily Dickenson’s poetry can be sung to “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and then proceeds to sing a bit. (“Because I could not stop for death/ He kindly stopped for meeeeeeee…”) Go ahead. Pick a random Dickinson poem. It doesn’t work for all of them, but it does put a rather odd spin on them…

“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—

I heard a fly buzz when I died;
The stillness round my form
Was like the stillness in the air
Between the heaves of storm.
The eyes beside had wrung them dry,
And breaths were gathering sure
For that last onset, when the king
Be witnessed in his power.
I willed my keepsakes, signed away
What portion of me I
Could make assignable, — and then
There interposed a fly,

It does get stuck in your head after a while, doesn’t it?

Thinking about this got me thinking about my first influential Weird Al experience. (There’s a phrase that probably doesn’t get typed very often… but it should, damnit. It should.) Okay, like a lot of young boys in the 80s I got into him because of “Eat It” (which, curiously, hit #1 in Australia, a country where “Beat It” ony hit #2) but it was his singing of “The Brady Bunch Theme Song” to the tune of “The Safety Dance” that really planted the seeds of reverent parody in my head. This was long before mash-ups became the meme du jour in the early Aughties. (There’s only one of those I still listen to, and only because it puts an unjustly famous American “Punk” Band in their proper context.) And if you read through a lot of lyrical poetry, it’s amazing how well it all fits.

That’s your Poetry Monday post for today. Me? I’m going to finish this story, slather myself in cortisone, freebase Benadryl, and hope this rash or reaction or bug or whatever goes away soon, while singing “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” to the tune of the Gilligan’s Island Theme Song. It’s a sailor thing.

Book Review: Witchfinder

I’ve linked to some of Sarah Hoyt’s posts before, both from According to Hoyt and the Mad Genius Club  blog. I’ve liked her writing since discovering it via Instapundit, but until now, I’d only read her essays (some of her blog posts, to me, seem involved and rich enough to call them that) and short stories. This is the first novel of hers I’ve read, and I have to say that I’d been looking forward to it for a couple of weeks, ever since I saw the teaser on her site.

The book might best be called “Historical Fantasy” though the version of Regency England that most of the story takes place in is a world or two removed from our own. Among other things, King Arthur was real, magic works, and it is illegal to travel between worlds, which of course means that the plot focuses on a few who do just that. The story takes a couple of chapters to get going. This is not a bad thing at all, of course… I am the person who went through 400 pages of Infinite Jest to figure out what the actual story was. But it does factor with the few things I didn’t like about this book.

Let me get them out of the way. Some of the dialogue, especially when we first meet a new character, is stuffed with unrealistic detail, detail a character living in the world wouldn’t use but included for a reader’s benefit. These go away after the early part of the book, though. There were some typos, especially involving the name of a character when we first hear about him, that threatened to pull me out of the book when I’d barely begun. I also found a few grammatical typos (including one sentence than stood out because it’s a kind of error… a labyrinthine sentence that doesn’t quite close itself at the end… that I always have to edit out of my own MSs) that bothered me. I’m not bothered to the degree that I was with the typos and eggcorns in Twilight because I expect a company like Scholastic to have layers of editors and fact-checkers and proofreaders, or at least, that was how the big publishing companies justified their price points and superiority over indies. But, I will say to Ms Hoyt that she should go over the book one more time or have an independent editor do so, and I’ll say to the readers after me that you should ignore them and plunge on with the story, because it is a hell of a story.

The plot, once it gets moving, does not stop for anything. Just when I thought I had a handle on what the characters had to do and what they could possibly do to get out of it, something twisted and sent me along a new path. While at the very beginning, the characters seem like hopeless stereotypes from Regency or Edwardian romance fiction (the dissolute duke, the bastard brother who loves him, the plucky female spy, the mother who knows most and suffers for it, etc) the characters do jump out in new directions. The description of the world(s) and the magic involved were at once charming, dramatic, and realistic. And there are a couple interesting folds that show that Ms Hoyt is definitely having fun with the world, such as when we learn that the denizens of this magical England have the same fairy tales, but they’re interpreted a little differently:

“although mostly what one learned [from Cinderella] was not to perform love-spells involving one’s own father and a nice-seeming neighbor lady, when one was a very young and inexperienced witch. And as for Little Riding Hood, that charming cautionary tale had prevented many a young girl from giving her pet dog characteristics of her human playmates in order to have him better play house.”

All told, this was a worthwhile read, and I’m glad I bought it. It also gives me hope for the independent publishing world that an already-established author like Sarah Hoyt is willing to take the plunge and publish on her own, and that such work obviously wasn’t something her ‘real’ publisher rejected but a quality, well written piece of entertainment. Consider it recommended.

Rating: 4/5 stars. Five, of course, I will only give to books that threaten to rewrite the very fabric of humanity. 2/5 is a competent book… one that I at least felt like finishing. 3/5 is good… say, a C+ or a B- maybe. It’s not one I could imagine rereading, but it’s also not a book that would make me call up the publisher and ask for a refund of my time. 4/5… I’m going to be rereading this. And if there are more books forthcoming, I’ll read those as well, and most likely push them on the blog.


Non-Slacking Saturday

So after a good evening of reading and working on the new story, I decided to hold off on my book reviews until this morning. when I could focus on them a little more. Starting some time last night, a rash started to spread around the left side of my body, starting with the back of my neck and spreading to my face, scalp, and now my upper back. I have no clue what it is. I haven’t been rolling in anything rotten (lately) and while we did find poison ivy in our back yard last week, that was a week ago,  and I’ve never reacted to poison ivy before. (Poison oak is another story entirely…) So, since my plans for today involved going out and hanging out with some friends in the park, I’ve decided to play it safe, slather my body with cortisone, and work on book and site reviews today. Also, writing about itching is the worst thing one can do when one itches. Just putting that out there.

Writing the Hydra

The new story is scheduled, I have another chapter finished on my final draft, and I’m about a third of the way through Witchfinder, which I’ll review for the blog this weekend. (Preliminary review:  Intriguing, and definitely an interesting setting. I like the main characters. Seems like a romantic fantasy novel of intrigue, though not overly heavy on any of those factors… in other words, nicely balanced.) All in all, it was a productive day.

In other news, I sketched out two ideas for next week’s story, and even wrote a little exploring one of them. And two more ideas cropped up while I was doing that. Interestingly enough, when I first conceived of doing this project, I was worried that I would write my small stock of ideas and freeze, like when I would teach a fifty-minute class and finish the material in forty minutes. And yes, writing books always say to have faith in your muse, and if you write every day, you will rarely be completely blocked. (This is true for me, in the sense that I might get blocked on the main project I’m working on, but if I have a couple of things spinning, I can shift to the other one until I figure out what went wrong.) And in fact, whenever I wrote a novel, new ideas would wash up like driftwood on a beach or that unavoidable ring in the bathtub after you spent three hours in there with a bottle of brandy and a bunch of candles (two of which fell in the water at some point) crying over your current block and refusing to look at the other projects. But I never expected anything like what’s happening with my stories.

Picture this:  I sit down to flesh out one idea and in the middle of the story, another one jumps up. So I jot down that idea and go back to writing. Then I get to the other idea, and two more jump up. So I jot those ideas down and another three ideas come up. And then… and then…

You’d think this would be pleasant, but it’s not. By now, I have four stories up on my page, written in four weeks, and ten idea jumping around my desk like little ducks on crystal. And I know the minute I pick one up, set it on my desk, and tell its story, he’s going to spit up another three or five or twenty.

I guess the only solution is to write faster.

Inspiration: WordPress Tweaking

I’m still working on the new theme for the blog (though Thursday’s story is finished, and next week’s is slowly peeking out of the closet I keep all my new ideas in). So, most of my inspiration today will be related to HTML, CSS, PHP, and WordPress hacking. Those of you with a blog might like these articles. Those of you who’ve tweaked your WordPress might want to offer me suggestions. And those of you who just read can either apply some of this stuff to writing bitchin’ comments in full HTML, or read something.

From WordPress:  Five Elements For Your Front Page

Also from WordPress:  Site Design and Layout

And here’s the CSS tutorial from W3Schools… there might be flashier ones, but this tutorial is short and blunt and to the point.

Digging into PHP and MySQL and such can get a little trying, but HTML and CSS are pretty powerful on their own, and really aren’t hard to learn. (Especially if you’re like me and grew up with a word processor or typewriter that had control codes.)

I’ll be back a little later with more inspiration.