Book Review: ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King

I’m not one to care much about material possession, but if gifts are in order I’m all about books. For the big dirty thirty I received a copy of On Writing by Stephen King. I’ve had friends suggest this text to me before, but with academic writing taking precedent over fiction I didn’t have time for it.
The book is odd, as it’s broken up into segments that often have little concern of the writing process. It opens with a solid hundred pages of a life story that begins with childhood imagination. The cover of the book reveals the subtitle “A Memoir of the Craft” to which the first and third segments adhere. My expectations were thrown off, but for the rabid King fan it’s an interesting look into the life of the author.
It’s the middle segment of the book where King offers the goods. The tips to writing that makes for good reading include similar tendencies I developed in my academic pursuits. King even name-dropped The Elements of Style throughout his text, which I had put to use in college.
Beyond sentence structure King’s emphasis is crafting fiction. This is the gray area that has worked for him, if it’s true. I wouldn’t take the advice as that which all should follow, but one radical element stood out to me. I scoffed, at first, but further consideration has given the idea validity in my mind, though it’s not for me. This claim is that King does not plot, and that it’s the coupling of questions with the writing process that crafts his stories. Like a scientific theory more than one party must handle the notion if it’s to be considered fact. From here I point towards Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the minds behind South Park. At a college lecture on writing Stone and Parker described an approach that considers the full plotting of an episode to produce a result that is predictable. To avoid this the writing starts with a premise, and they throw questions at it until something sticks, and eventually takes shape.
Sorry to venture off there, but it’s the notion that King’s approach works for successful writers beyond himself that suggests the idea has some commercial merit. I do enough plotting to know where I’m going, lest I get to a pivotal moment and take the easy way out… but I must acknowledge appreciation in the face of difference.
This book is no holy grail. King offers no magic beyond general practices, and personal preferences. It’s another chunk of text on writing in a sea of such material. Yet I’d recommend it to those getting started, or even an experienced writer in need of a refresher. King’s voice is clear, encouraging, and easy to understand.

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Critical South Park- S20E1: ‘Member Berries’

Spoiler Alert: South Park, Season 20-Episode 1: ‘Member Berries’ will be discussed.

There are no greater minds contributing to contemporary satire than those of Matt Stone and Trey Parker. As South Park enters its 20th season the audience was enticed by a commercial that suggests the show has been there for a number of our own personal milestones. The advertisement juxtaposes clips from the show with a family, and depicts their youngest daughter growing up with the show. It is similar to my own experience, as I recall being in the fifth grade when the first season premiered. South Park has changed since then, and I argue that such change has been for the better. It maintains a particular freshness, while other shows become stagnate victims to their own routines. Season eighteen gave us a light serialization to the episodes, while the format of season nineteen was that of a chronological storyline. Season twenty seems to pick right up where we left off last year.

 

Episode I: Member Berries

To open the season with our current discourse the scene opens at a volleyball game where four girls sit down during the national anthem to, “protest all the harassment and trolling they receive on the internet.” With parallels to the recent Colin Kaepernick controversy, the internet trolling is used to make light of some of the heavier topics they tackle on the show, including race relations and cultural misogyny. The decision to sit out the national anthem is used as a device that gives light to the greater divisions being explored. “The final result: four athletes sitting out on the national anthem, three of them not even black.” The national anthem ends, the crowd leaves, and the girls play their game in front of empty seats to present the absurdity of the public backlash against peaceful protest of a celebrity.

To parallel the message of the commercial, season twenty opens with the theme of nostalgia. We are faced with the same language the show used twelve years ago concerning the nature of American elections and the voting process. Hillary Clinton is called a ‘turd sandwich’ while Mr. Garrison (the figure standing in for Donald Trump… probably to satirize Trump in their own way since he is the low hanging fruit of late night comedy) is called a ‘giant douche’ with the intent to carry out an immigration policy of, ‘fucking them all to death.’ Such a policy is also carried over from the story line of the previous season. Stan Marsh isn’t pleased with the throwback language, and suggests something negative about the writing in Meta fashion. Randy Marsh, his father, suggests that Stan is being ‘cynical’ and a ‘nihilist’ for voicing such concerns. This moment stands as a veiled attempt to please everyone through self-deprecation, and to this point I’ve heard no complaints.

The school message boards continue to be trolled by an anonymous figure, and the primary targets are women. All of the students assume the troll, known as Skank Hunt 42 is Eric Cartman, but the final scene reveals Gerald Broflovski, Kyle’s father, lawyer, and member of the city counsel. The use of this character suggests the complication of anonymity, as the shroud permits a person free of suspicion to partake in the vile expressions of photo shopping, ‘a picture of Heidi Turner’s mom with a dick in her mouth’ to the amusement of some of the boys. It suggests we may not know a person as well as we’d like to assume, and that that no one is born above the inadequacies of environment. This trolling creates a divide between the genders that is used to reflect upon the contemporary discourse concerning rape culture, and that the character of a reputably good person is susceptible to that of cultural vice.

With politics and the election being at the forefront of the narrative, the adults seek the refuge of escapism through chemical indulgence. Through the episode we see Mr. Mackey, Mr. Stotch, and Randy Marsh partaking in a ‘new super fruit that helps you mellow out’ known as member berries. These bunched fruits have the appearance of grapes, but bear faces, and speak with the voices of nasally children with thick New York accents. They make suggestions of comforting nostalgia. Lines like, ‘member Star Wars?’ are followed up with, ‘oh I love Star Wars!’ They make suggestions of nostalgic entertainment where the comforting suspension of disbelief stands in for the crippling anxiety of our shared reality. It is only as we near the end of the episode that the berries begin to lull Randy into a nostalgic stupor with suggestions of, ‘member when marriage was just between a man and a woman?’ ‘member when there weren’t so many Mexicans?’ ‘member no ISIS?’ and my personal favorite, ‘member feeling safe?’ Randy resents the sentiments of the member berries, and panics at the momentary connection he feels in being nostalgic for a past that wasn’t so great, and the possibility/complication of having harbored such prejudices.

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Book Review: ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ by Peter De Vries

Great literature has often moved me to feeling, but never to tears until ‘The Blood of the Lamb’ by Peter De Vries. As described by the late Dr. Myers back in 2013, the book is, “a comedy about a man whose child dies of cancer.” With this spoiler in mind, I was still left unprepared for the impact of the prose upon my heart.

In truth the novel follows Don Wanderhope from his early childhood through the loss of his daughter, Carol. We don’t meet Carol until the final third of the book, but to that point we are exposed to the persistence of loss, and the complications of faith in the face of such experience.

The death of a young lover brings Wanderhope to question the overseeing doctor on a belief in God, and we are given a great insight to the nature of doubt,

“He just perceptibly raised his eyes, as if in entreaty to Heaven to spare him at least this. It took me some years to attain his mood and understand my blunder. He resented such questions as people do who have thought a great deal about them. The superficial and the slipshod have ready answers, but those looking this complex life straight in the eye acquire a wealth of perception so composed of delicately balanced contradictions that they dread, or resent, the call to couch any part of it in a bland generalization. The vanity (if not outrage) of trying to cage this dance of atoms in a single definition may give the weariness of age with the cry of youth for answers the appearance of boredom. Dr. Simpson looked bored as he ground his teeth and gazed away” (111).

Our narrator is a tragic embodiment of something that relates to the human condition. In describing the conflicts of his marriage he observes, “one of those subtle shifts of mood that emphasize how much we live by one another’s variable weather” (147).

But no matter the weight I’m well versed in tragedy. It is a subject matter or genre that brings me a peculiar pleasure. Morbid as it may seem, I delight in such material as it brings me the comforts of community. Upon fighting the ‘beast’ that is Carol’s leukemia, Wanderhope suggests that in the face of a terminal illness, medicine is, “the art of prolonging disease” (183), and that the notion of progress serves only to infect the wound, as, “Progress doubles our tenure in a vale of tears” (242). It is with the loss of Carol that Wanderhope is able to admit that, “Time heals nothing” (246).

The Blood of the Lamb is a hard-hitting piece of work, with a style of prose that tells more than it shows. It’s in this telling that we relate to such loss through empathy. Knowing that the entire book was leading up to the death of a child made it no easier to read the passage in which Carol was lost. I had to put the book down on several occasions, but in returning I always found more value than I had expected, and more emotion than I could handle at times. This was the kind of tragedy that goes beyond standard literary merit… this book moved me to tears more than once.

What makes it so difficult is knowing how closely the story mirrored the life of the author. It’s what made it all so authentic. His conflicting thoughts on faith, and his sharp observations of love, and life, and hatred, brought me to care in such a way as to suggest true feeling… My apologies, for this is not my typical review of sorts… I’m still dealing with the loss described on the page.

This’ll Feel Like Home-My Friends of Mumvies Boy

Disclaimer and personal opinion: the unique band name is derived of a story oddly close to infringing upon the copyrights of Friday the 13th.

My time with Mumvies Boy came with a predetermined expiration date, so I knew from the start that we’d share a limited series of moments. No long-term commitment allowed me to apply effort without any real pressure. I felt free to be myself, and play the parts as I saw fit. The core members consisted of the songwriting duo Michael Davanzo and Tommy Isaac, and their plans involved relocation after obtaining their respective degrees. With their previous drummer having departed from the Columbus area I was welcomed into their circle. Bias runs through this text, but music is best described in terms of taste… their approach to creating music is most tasteful.

I met Michael at Ohio State in the fall of 2013. Through our studies we became acquaintances, but through music emerged friendship. He was living with Tommy off of Hudson, and I met him when I finally came over to jam last winter… no strings attached.

While my drumming resume ranges from metal to musical theatre I’ve never taken part in anything that would fall under the banner of folk. Michael plays an acoustic guitar with a style that nods towards that of Lindsey Buckingham. Tommy brought flare to the table with erratic synthesizers, and the occasional complimentary ukulele. Together they seek to craft a sound that is a hybrid of minimalist electronic and folk.

The only Columbus show I played with them took place at the Space Bar in early February. At the time they had acquired the talents of Sylvie Mix to round out the group on bass. I remember the burden of concern that Tommy had expressed for that show. To consider a rhythm section that hadn’t ever gone over the songs together would sound the alarm of inadequate preparation, and yet the set started, we all clicked, and the crowd was none the wiser.

After that Sylvie departed for the endeavors of her own plate, and Mumvies Boy would continue without a bass player for the remainder of their time in Ohio.

We started tweaking songs and playing gigs in their hometown of Mansfield. The duo had acquired the vocal talents of local artist Erin Mason (to my knowledge she performs with a multitude of other acts, but I’m only certain of Hello Emerson), and the harmonies she and Michael produced gave the sound an extra layer of magic. I loved the charm of their music, and their Mansfield. Up to that point in my life I’d never experienced latte art, and assumed the patterns atop coffee cups to be the beautiful lie of Photoshop. Though I’ve seen pictures of such imagery online, the physical cup of chai tea amused me beyond what it had merited… a simple pleasure serves best.

The Mansfield gigs included the basement office space of a newspaper production house (of which there is a recording), the patio of a local brewery, and a larger outdoor stage that we shared with another Columbus act, Coal Fired Bicycle. Within the scope of that time I met their families, was a guest in the homes they grew up in, explored high rooftops, carousels, and developed friendships outside of a classroom setting. All of which happened to be more than I expected to take away.

With their departure I find a personal joy in acknowledging their hopeful spirits. They venture west in search of the next chapter of their lives, without burning the pages of previous endeavors. I write this only to reflect, and wish them well. I hope they settle into their new home with an ease that allows for their musical project to take root, and continue with the most limited of interruption. I believe in the horror story that is Mumvies Boy.

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From left to right: Erin Mason, Michael Davanzo, my horror-show self, and Tommy Isaac.

Prologue for ‘Tin Foil Hat’

{The following is the prologue from my second book, Tin Foil Hat.}

Record Seventy-Four
On Stalking-Social Skills-A Prelude to Waste

Reflecting upon the first time I broke into Beatrix Kennedy’s apartment, I associate the memory with the euphoric sensation similar to the peace one feels beyond the climax of drowning. With her Twitter account informing me that she would be spending quality ‘alone time’ with the TV while she caught up on some shitty drama before the new season was set to premier the following weekend, I felt this was the moment worth seizing. Knowing she’d be by herself and binging in front of the screen allowed for an excitement that sent my heart into double time. I’ve been stalking Beatrix for a matter of years now, and I could not have fantasized such a perfect coincidence. How foolish of her to move back home…

It starts by seeking them out online. Social networking has made this easier than ever before. While B’s Facebook page was private and left much to the imagination, her Twitter account granted open access to her thoughts, feelings, and occasionally her schedule. Of course, I started from the beginning and broke the ice by reading through all one thousand three hundred and twenty-seven tweets that she had typed off since the winter of 2009. You can learn so much private information about a person when they post it for the world to see; no roommate, no dog, owns a gun, even the fact that she prefers women to men. I tell myself when she does love a man she loves a man with a beard. My routine of maintaining a shaved face would not be a deterrent, as her tastes were not part of what I considered important. Her online persona is so sarcastic, and beautiful, and selfish. It’s no wonder she’s single.

 

Once the target has been confirmed, it never takes more than twenty minutes to Google my way to an address. You really have no idea how easy it is; I should’ve worked for the government on some spy program aimed at watching civilians. As it turned out, Beatrix lived a ten-minute drive from my residence, and I visited the premises often. I even took the time to visit the leasing office, claiming to be moving to the area. This allowed me to indulge the specifics like the restrictions on installing a security system.

I had scoped out her complex a number of times before our first encounter. So much time spent in longing… She lived on the third story, which at first appeared to complicate how I’d go about breaking in. After a little inspection I realized that the stairwell was out of sight for the passerby and made for a prime jumping point to get onto the balcony that entered straight into the glory of her bedroom.

The best part of that humid Friday afternoon was making the drop to find that the city girl with a gun was under the assumption that her balcony was out of reach. Ms. Kennedy had left the door unlocked, and I slid the plate of glass to the left, pushed aside the blinds, and entered paradise.

Crisp air conditioning chilled me and solidified the layer of sweat to my skin in a way that contrasted the swamp-like atmosphere outside. That first sensation of cool air brought on such comfort that I almost forgot to press forward with my plan. Beatrix would be on the clock for another three hours… plenty of time to poke around and set up camp.

Dirty clothes were scattered about a carpeted floor in a flawed way that turned me on. An aroma lifted from the laundry and I brought a shirt to my nose to properly breathe her in. Pressing the fabric to my face, I closed my eyes and thought of her hair. Joy overwhelmed my heart as I dropped the shirt to the floor and continued inspecting the room. A queen size bed was located in the far corner with a few blankets carelessly discarded to the foot. Her dresser top consisted of old receipts and other such clutter that told me where she shopped and ate. A bookcase stood adjacent to the dresser and for the most part displayed the texts of her studies. Such curiosity on an intellectual level… could it be that I’ve found an equal? Nay, for she is greater than I am.

The only television was located in the living room, with all the bells and whistles of video game systems and surround sound. A walk-in closet peered directly at the couch that sat at the optimal television viewing position. At that point in time the closet had been left wide open. Clutter would be my saving grace, as I would drape fallen jackets and other loose garments over me and watch her watch her show. Even if she shut the closet I could still bear witness to her presence through the crack where the bottom of the door neglects to reach the carpet. Not too bad a view, at all.

The minor bits of filth in the bathroom brought a smile to my face. Upon entering I immediately seized the hairbrush and stripped it of the loose hair caught within, pocketing it for later indulgences.

I turned off my cellphone, ate a piece of wheat bread, and used the restroom well before Beatrix returned home for the evening. With building anticipation I took my place within the living room closet to wait it out.

 

She was so beautiful. That first audible sigh of relief that she let out caused my heart to swell with the genuine happiness that triggers the nostalgic wonder of childhood. Her business attire was quickly replaced with a loose fitting yellow t-shirt, the shortest of gray cotton shorts, and pure untainted white socks. I had never before seen much of her flesh above the knee. Such a sight complicated the conditions required to restrain myself. But I’m well disciplined.

Taking into account her negligence concerning the closet door, I would be treated to a much more desirable viewpoint than initially expected. What amazing luck. I stared directly at her, and she never caught my glare.

She spent a little time in the bathroom before emerging. Moving with the grace of divinity, she walked to the kitchen where she grabbed and consumed an apple. This display of her eating habits explains how she maintained a physique of such desirable conditions. I could not have fantasized this level of perfection. She is as an apple; the fruit I so desire to consume; the drug I need if I intend to sleep.

Upon assuming her position on the couch, Beatrix handled the assortment of remote controls to establish the ice breaking of the series-streaming binge.

Hours passed. The only interruption occurred due to hunger. In between episodes she ordered food from a Chinese restaurant, and it was delivered shortly thereafter.

Following dinner she removed more articles of clothing. The yellow t-shirt found its place on the floor next to the shorts. She was without a bra… I would have touched myself right there had it not been a point of compromise to my going unnoticed.

 

Shortly after two in the morning, she deviated from the show and put on something else to serve as background noise. From that point she proceeded to pass out on the couch.

I waited a solid half hour beyond my personal certainty that she was asleep before standing up as quietly as possible. I approached her resting body and hovered over it. The glow of the screen illuminated her pale skin, revealing the magnitude of its pull as a coveted and living thing. I looked upon her bare chest and considered a gentle caress… but the possibility of waking her would prohibit such a gesture. To compromise I ran my fingers through her hair and lowered my face to smell her before I walked out through the front door. Leaving it unlocked left me with the knowledge that something suspicious would be revealed to her, for she is not one to overlook such details.

I went home, and played guitar into the early afternoon. Then I masturbated myself out of the scope of realism and into a restful sleep. May have a new song in the works.

All of my love, -MT

 

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On ‘Blindness’ by José Saramago

An epidemic will typically start with an individual entity. Blindness by José Saramago begins with a singular unnamed character, strikes him with sudden blindness behind the wheel of his car, and spreads out from there. The science fiction motif follows through the hoops of genre expectation, but with a literary merit that won a Nobel Prize. The initially afflicted are quarantined, and the standard of living descends into the wretchedness of human depravity. There is little hope beyond the instinct that dictates survival, and yet our cast presses on in the fashion of a funeral march. It is a heartbreaking read that ends on a hopeful note that almost feels forced. I’m not thrilled that this sci-fi tragedy had an optimistic ending, but even with the resolution comes the reflection of what a simple lack will do to a people, and to what depths are we driven by want? It’s satire, so I dig it. Yet it is not only the story that makes this book special.

The text is a fluid thing. It is without question or quotation marks, proper paragraph breaks, or even character names. The reader is challenged to forgo the expectations of traditionally published storytelling, and to feel their way through the text. The narrator jumps through perspectives, breaks from the story to imply or manipulate opinion, and seems to play with the experimental atmosphere of modernity coupled with the stuff narrative theorists dream of. The rhythm is fun to read, but the density removes the notion that Blindness is intended to be a quick read.

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Puzzle Box: Product Review

I’ve exhausted the typical routes to earthly pleasure. Hedonism comes second only to self-destruction. Hard drugs? Whatev. Blood of virgins? I’ll tell you that it doesn’t preserve youth as well as I’d have liked. Horror movies? That’s where I found this most false refuge.

I’m a fan of the Hellraiser series. I’ve read The Hellbound Heart, and found that Clive Barker writes my kind of horror. For some reason I’ve watched all nine films. I recommend the initial trilogy. If you’re into punishing yourself I recommend them all.

Stumbling through a series of sites I was thrilled to have found Lemarchand’s box. The stained wood and etched brass offers a sleek appearance. Searching for the space that would allow me to open the box I found only slick surface. I was confused. I carried upon my will the intent to solve the Lament Configuration, summon the Cenobites, and subject myself to all of the pleasures of spiritual suffering… but it was not to be.

Once I had discovered that I was in possession of a replica I wrote a strongly worded letter, to which I received no reply. Now I’ll take my complaints to the internet. I SHOULD BE IN SOME VERSION OF HELL, but I’m still here… The box now rests in my bookcase, and serves as a beautiful and constant reminder of a fantasy.

Now that I think further on it I may have gotten the real thing, solved it, and this reality is what I get…

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All kidding aside, it’s a beautiful piece of work. Fans of the Hellraiser series should do themselves a favor and check out The Puzzle Box Maker.