“Excuse me, sir, but your stupid is showing”

2/9/2015

Ah, Mr. King, you’ve done it again. I have been waiting to get my hands on some of your most recent novels, but, poor as I am, have had to be content with staring longingly at the book section of Walmart. Last week, I finally got my copy of Mr. Mercedes. As usual, I find in your writing a refreshing blend of humor, uniqueness, and, of course, captivating plot and characters. Some people might call you strictly a pop fiction writer, but I would wager they hadn’t read enough of your works, especially the later ones, to be able to discern your true talent. For instance, the tying together of a meta- plot arc spanning basically the whole of your writing career in the Dark Tower series took epic writing chops, so sayeth this humble writer. Some reviews have no doubt referred to your writing in “literary” terms, and I think this is more accurate, because you don’t just write stories, you write characters…real people. Yes, I am fully aware I sound like a gushy fangirl, but, believe me, I am coming to a point (I think.) I read and love your writing so much I know it has influenced my own, from the “artistic liberties” I take with sentence structure to the very tone of my writing. Your stories make me think.

Mr. Mercedes is no different. I am still in the thick of the novel, but the villain in Mr. Mercedes has gotten me thinking, and… I think, therefore I BLOG. Although I have some educational background in criminal justice, and have done quite a bit of reading on sociopathic killer-types, I really can’t say for sure what your “typical” villain might be like. Brady Hartsfield seems to fit a lot of the established characteristics (and maybe some stereotypes?) for sociopaths. He’s arrogant, narcissistic, seems socially underdeveloped yet is great at faking proper social interactions. His moral compass is completely off kilter (he still thinks he knows right and wrong, but his morals definitely don’t conform to social norms.) He’s also fairly intelligent…and perhaps also predictably, he does consider himself smarter than the rest of us sheeple.

And yet, like most criminal/villain types in pop culture, he is stupid. Not in the intellectual sense, so much as the moral sense, I suppose. As if we didn’t have enough reason to dislike Hartsfield for committing mass vehicular homicide (and then writing a letter to brag gleefully about it,) you wrote him as a casually unapologetic racist. While he doesn’t overtly go out of his way, at least not that I have read yet, to commit acts specifically for a racial agenda, throughout the narrative of his internal thoughts, he displays his tasteless views on everything from inter-racial dating to black people with “white names,” and peppered in there, in case you need more convincing, is his flagrant use of the N-word.

Now while all of this of course did achieve the likely purpose of causing me to dislike him even more, I found also that it put me off of his “character” as well. What I mean, I guess, is that many readers may dislike a villain for his actions, but like the function he serves in the story. Let’s face it; some characters make good villains (Hannibal Lector immediately springs to mind as an iconic good villain.) They have flare, charisma. They’re clever. Some of them even start out with sort of sympathetic reasons behind their villainous actions.

This douchebag, Hartsfield, while admittedly “clever” in the sense of planning and execution of his crimes, has sort of lost any credibility (with me, at least) as a good villain. As intelligent as he may be in some ways, the fact that he displays such racist ideals just proves his ignorance and selective use of intellectual and logical thinking, and thus causes him to go down in my estimation, even as a villain. While this may seem like an obvious statement (uh, duh, racism is stupid) what was more curious to me was how this changed my dislike for him, from simply thinking of him as a nut-job with a murderous agenda to thinking of him as a narcissistic, weak-minded brat.

So, if there is a point to this whole excursion into mental diarrhea, I suppose it’s that (in my book at least), If you’re a villain, it’s okay to be a psychopathic killer… as long as you’re not a fucking idiot too.

Thanks for coming along, readers.

Related:  https://alienredqueen.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/tunnel-vision-more-on-the-predictable-pathology-of-bad-guys/

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Meh…

To all my regular readers and bloggy friends, sorry I’ve been lazy about my blog lately.  Not so much the posting, because my inspiration comes in fits and starts, but the reading and the commenting on your fine blogs.  I haven’t forgotten you all.  It’s just, when I multitask, something always suffers.   I finally have my material for the next two chapters of my dog training studies too, so I need to get back on that!  Please accept my humble and inadequate apologies, and have patience with your dear Queen.

 

-AlienRedQueen

 

PS.  “Bloggy” sounds like “Froggy.”  I like froggies….

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Humpday Food For Thought: Read This Book

I’ve had a couple things rattling around in the ol’ gulliver. One is this book.

Gulliver: a slang term used by the character “Alex” in the book A Clockwork Orange (by Anthony Burgess,) and later a movie by the same title directed by Stanley Kubrick. Russian/Gypsy “NADSAT” teenage vernacular.  (source) 

Yeah, I’m re-reading A Clockwork Orange.  For those of you who never have read Anthony Burgess novel from which Stanley Kubrick’s cult classic film was based, it’s definitely worth the read, if for no other reason than because the end of the movie is not the true end of the story.  The book is written from the point of view of the main character; it wouldn’t be appropriate to necessarily call him a “protagonist” in the traditional sense, because Alex is, at least initially, not a very sympathetic character.  He’s actually a sociopath juvenile delinquent.  Published in 1962, the novel is still surprisingly relevant.  The setting is some future, dingy, dystopic London, where gangs roam the streets with near impunity, especially at night.  Different age groups seem to have different slang, a language all their own almost, and the narrator is no exception.  While the seeming overabundance of essentially made up words is a bit overwhelming at first (there’s actually a glossary of Nadsat language included in the back of my copy of the book,) the reader eventually gets used to seeing certain terms repeated, and the definition of other Nadsat words may be gleaned from the context in which they’re used.  I think the use of this “language” is part of the reason for the book’s timelessness.  The fictional slang often takes the place of words that might otherwise date the material more.

The novel has three main parts, the first of which opens on Alex and his gang’s path of drugging, rape, and violence on a typical (for them) night in the city.  Supposedly inspired by actual events of violence and juvenile delinquency experienced by the author and his family, the novel is a scathing (and still very relevant) political text on the condition of youth violence and the idea of free will, with harrowing consequences.

Anyway…all of this amounts to… it’s a hell of a book and you should read it.

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Is “That Kind of Language” Really Necessary?

Those of you who are faithful followers, or who know me personally, know that I am something of a potty mouth.  I could give you examples, or mention all the variations of the title question I’ve heard, but that’s not really what the this post is about.

Today, I finished another Dean Koontz novel, The Funhouse.  Despite Koontz’s tendency to include thinly veiled moral/religious connotations in most of his work, and his even more irritating tendency to overdo it on the metaphorical descriptives, I do like his stories.  The Funhouse, one of his older novels and based off another author’s screenplay, is in my opinion, one of his more entertaining pieces.

But what really struck me was a passage from the “new” afterword.  The novelization was originally penned in 1980 (a year before I was born, incidentally,) and the language is gritty and (to me) realistic to a bunch of rebel teens from the ’80’s.  Koontz had this to say in his newest afterword written this year.

If I were to write the novelization […] today, I’d leave out most or all of the explicit language, since I’ve learned it’s always a crutch and that it diminishes rather than enlivens virtually any story.

I immediately took issue with this statement.  To be sure, I am picky about my writing, and critical about the writing in the books I read.  For instance, Patricia Cornwell is an extremely popular crime novelist who has sold more than 100 million copies of her novels.  And I don’t like her.  Sure, her stories are fine, but I find her writing style so irritating that I just don’t buy her books.  I can’t recall specifics because it’s been a while since I read anything of hers, but I seem to remember her as one of those authors that feels like she has to “explain” everything to audience, to the point where it causes the dialogue between characters to sound disingenuous and phony.

Which brings me to my point.  One of the major things that determines a novel’s success is the ability of the audience to relate to and care about the characters.  Nothing detracts from that faster than a disingenuous character or one who does not seem realistic.  While I concede that there are people that don’t use profanity, and writers who may eschew the use of it in their work, I believe it is a writer’s job to be true to their characters.  If their characters are typical 80’s teens, as in The Funhouse, they more than likely swear at least a little.  Even if there is a token “good girl” or “mama’s boy” in there somewhere, more than likely, the rest will curse at least a bit and more than possibly like sailors.

Nothing is more irritating than to hear (read) a character tip-toe around bad words, or worse, substitute lesser exclamations as if they were the most natural thing in the world.  “Oh, crap.”

Anyway, I just think, as successful as Koontz is, on this point, he’s…well, wrong.

What do you think, my fellow writers and book worms?

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Tabula Rasa

The written English language is pretty strange, a fact that is never more apparent than when you are teaching a small human to read.  My daughter is only 2 and a half, and even though we read to her a lot, and of course there are plenty of alphabet based books out there, I was still surprised to learn she had mastered the recognition of the entire upper case alphabet.  It happened when my back was turned, so to speak, the same as when I discovered she knew how to match shapes  (flash cards.)  I was trying to teach her how to put like colors together, and the next thing I knew, she was putting the shapes together.  I continue to underestimate her capabilities.

In the past couple of weeks, her speaking has taken off, and she often mimics words we say (much to our embarrassment, sometimes,) as well as echoing the tail end of songs from her favorite kids shows.  The point of this long intro is that it seems as if she will be learning to speak and learning to read simultaneously.

The favorite show of the day/week/month is Super Why!   For you non-parents or non-toddler having parents, Super Why! is a PBS kid’s show featuring characters who read, spell,and solve “super big” problems through the use of books (in this case, usually a spin on a common children’s tale like Humpty Dumpty or Aladdin.)

For now, we’ll just set aside the idea that even the littlest issue (like leaving the water running) is a “super big” problem.  As it goes, Super Why! is a pretty good kid’s show.  And now that J* is proudly recognizing letters everywhere, from Nike sweatshirts to the “input” channel on the TV, she loves this show.  No matter what hubby and I are watching or playing, J* is hovering around, waiting to steal the controller with her lilting request to watch “Boy? Boy? Boy?” (She calls it this because of when I taught her the main character was a little boy.)

As I sat on the couch this morning, cuddling with my sick little snuggle bug and watching her favorite show, I was again reminded of how strange English can be.

We were learning to spell “kick,” to help the little duck in the story learn to swim.

Princess P asked , “What letter makes a keh sound?”  The answer she was looking for was of course “K.”

It was around this point I began to ponder what a useless letter “C” is.

What words start with C?

Cat. Car. Cane. Crown.  They all begin with a “hard” C.  Why don’t we spell them kat,kar,kane,krown?

How about Ceiling, Cease, Cement?  They’re soft C’s that sound the same as an S (esss.)  So why not Seiling (or better yet “seeling,”) sease, sement?

So what function does a C serve that can not either be served by a K or an S?  Why does the alphabet even have a C? I’m sure there’s a reason.  I just don’t understand the logic behind it.

Then when you consider “long and short vowels” and words with silent letters like head, kick, read (which can be either “reed” or “red”,) kneel, and basically any word that ends in a silent “e,” it’s a wonder anyone ever learns to read.

Really, it seems that learning to read English is only 2 parts phonetics, and the other third is simply rote memorization of the rules of linguistics and grammar.

Apparently, at her school, one of my nieces is being taught to read without phonics.  I’m assuming she is being taught the whole language method.  If I had to guess, I would say the way most of my peers learned to read was probably a combination of both, taught at age appropriate levels.

In any case, my child is a blank slate, eager to be filled with new words and experiences, and I think she is already on an early path to reading.  However she learns to read, I hope takes her everywhere she wants to go, and that she enjoys reading as much as her father and I.

photo credit: quickmeme.com

photo credit: quickmeme.com

DP: The Man in Black Fled Across the Desert…

 "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Maybe it’s no “Call me Ishmael,” but the above sentence starts the beginning of an epic journey (for once, the term “epic,” applied appropriately, and not uttered from the mouth of an emo teenage dirtbag,) the tale of Roland of Deschain’s journey towards the Dark Tower.

I wouldn’t say the aptly named first book/novella, The Gunslinger, was my favorite of the seven (now eightDark Tower series.  In fact, I have a hard time separating the novels in my mind, let alone choosing a favorite.  This series transported me in the way any good novel should, but through the series, I also developed a deep attachment to most of the characters, including the non-human ones (Oy! Oy!)

Oy the billybumbler

Oy the billybumbler

As an added bonus, King’s magnum opus included both oblique and more obvious references to at least a dozen of his other former novels, such as The Stand, It, and Eyes of the Dragon, as well as some of his short stories (Little Sisters of Eluria and Everything’s Eventual.)  Some of the references are small, almost name drops, while others manage to reintroduce interesting characters from previous novels.  You get answers to questions, and back-story to characters and events that you never knew existed.  While the length of the series may seem daunting at first, by the last page you’re mourning the end of the story and wishing there was more.   A story that effects you emotionally and whose characters you come to love  is not as common as you might think, but that is what the Dark Tower series represents for me, everything that is good about reading!

Doing the Dark Tower Right: Who Plays the Gunslinger?

As much a fan as I am of Stephen King’s epic series, The Dark Tower, I really, really hope they don’t make a movie/movies out of it.  Actually, I think it’s because I’m such a King/Dark Tower fan, that I don’t want them to make a movie out of it.  Two main reasons come to the forefront of my mind.

Firstly, Hollywood has managed to fuck up just about every Stephen King story that has every been adapted to film, even when King is involved in the adaptation.   Whether by substandard direction, low budget, or ridiculous special effects/monsters, they always manage to render King’s creations sort of…ridiculous.  They turn the scary silly, the morbid mundane.  In fact, the only adaptations of King’s stories that I can think of off the top of my head that were successful in any way were not initially billed in connection with King.  Like Stanley Kubrick‘s adaptation of The Shining, and more recently the film adaptation of The Green Mile, it was as if Hollywood feared limiting the scope of their viewers by associating it with the horror novel master’s name.

“Don’t you DARE make a Dark Tower movie! Just don’t. Fucking. Do it.”

And the second reason I really hope they don’t make a movie out of DT, equally if not more important than the first reason, is the fact that Stephen King’s Dark Tower series is his magnum opus.  THE magnum opus.  Now with the addition of The Wind Through the Keyhole, a volume written to fit chronologically between the fourth and fifth volumes in the sequence, the series totals eight books and encompasses elements of and references from over two dozen of his previous novels and short stories.  The epic novel-turned-film The Standfor instance, is heavily linked by common characters and themes.  Some ideas that may not even been previously apparent in the novel, such as the existence of many parallel strands of existence, have nonetheless have always existed for King somewhere in the reaches of his mind.

Other stories appear in The Dark Tower series as only mild references to characters or ideas from previous stories, so small the reader may not even remember them.

The point of which is basically that unless someone had the time, budget, knowledge, and skill to produce a whole season’s worth of one to two-hour episodes, it would be nearly impossible to do this series justice.  And you’d likely end up with a host of pissed off King fans.  Like me.

But… for the sake of argument, if they were  to make a film adaptation of DT, who would be worthy to play the iconic “spaghetti western” anti-hero, Roland of Gilead?  Unfortunately, Clint Eastwood is too old for the role (anyone else notice Roland’s startling resemblance to Mr. Eastwood as depicted on the dust jacket of the final (chronologically speaking) novel of the series?

“I’m the stunt double…”

Anyway, so I came up with three possibilities for the lead role.

Number 3: Karl Urban- He’s got that ruggedly handsome thing down pretty good.  Strap a gunbelt to him and he’s good to go.

Karl Urban

I’m kinda undecided on my second and first choice in that I like them both.  They’re both ruggedly sexy, good actors, and I could envision either of them as the acerbic and hardboiled Roland of Deschain.  The only drawback to any of these three men is that they are in fact well known actors, and may be considered by some as type-cast or locked into certain roles, which may be a hindrance rather than an asset to a film adaptation of DT.  But I’ll let you decide.

Number 2-  Hugh Jackman- Imagine the Wolverine attitude with…a cowboy hat.  He’s buff, tough, and he definitely has the right “air” about him.

“Snickety-snick! My guns are made of adamantium.”

Number 1- Timothy Olyphant-

Comes with his own hat and boots.

Also, as a runner up, especially if you want a little less of a polished, classically handsome choice, I would suggest Michael C. Hall.  He’s proven himself a versatile actor and he has a face that is pleasant but not as generic as the standard “Marlboro Man.”