King’s On Writing: The Intro

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is one of my favorite books ever. I’m on my second read and didn’t realize how much I enjoy his honesty and advise on writing, ideas, and life in general.

I decided to review it after one of our featured artists – Kevin Litwin – mentioned what the book meant to him and how it helped him as a writer. The light bulb went off, and I thought … what a great book to review!

So, here’s the intro. The book is not your traditional how-to write; it’s his story about what influenced him and how he got to where he is today. It’s not organized by chapters, rather sections that feel like stream of conscious but flow very well. Each section builds on one another, and you can easily read a couple of pages, laugh, and get back to life. You may not want to put it down though, so consider yourself warned…

I’ve always wondered what made famous writers famous. It’s not the writing quality (sometimes unfortunately), it’s not based on pop culture or what’s in style. Before everyone knew King, no one did. I’ve decided it’s the storytelling and its delivery.

With that said, here are some highlights and things I learned from the first 10 sections:

We tend to remember the traumatic events more than the good times. I’m sure psychologists would say because we are scarred and do not heal, they have more of a lasting effect. Maybe that’s true, and I definitely think it makes a writer better. Writers use that negative energy to tell their story and heal themselves.

We need the bad and the good. The hard times help us appreciate the good ones. They evoke emotion – negative or not – that we need to feel and act human. Artists have to have a muse, and no matter what, emotion is our muse. Certain things evoke the emotions we need, but at the core emotion fuels art.

Get ready to toughen up. I won’t spoil too much, but King refers to not being scared of literary critics thanks to a 200-pound babysitter farting on his face when he was a young boy. (Words wouldn’t scare anyone after something like that!) The point is if you plan to put yourself out there, get ready for people to talk about it. People love commenting – on everything.

Imagination is a wonderful thing. Think of some great fiction writers, Dr. Seuss, J.K. Rowling, Shakespeare, King, and think about what you love about their writing. It’s not because it’s grammatically correct or a best seller, it’s the creativity they put into the story. It’s their incredible imaginations flowing onto hundreds of pages that create a world for the reader. That’s imagination.

Be yourself. I’ve discussed this many times, and the more I learn, the more I realize how true it is. No one cares about your education or social class. No one cares where you came from or who you know. If you pour your heart, soul, and everything that is you into something, people will notice and appreciate you for it.

This week I challenge you to a writing exercise: Pick something that evoked a strong emotion – good or bad – and write about it. No one has to read it, just let the emotions pour out onto the page. What happened and how you really felt about it. Don’t be afraid. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn into something great!

Best Horror Story: Rats in the Walls

I’m going to take a departure from movie reviews and do something a little different.

Films and TV shows rely on visual and audio to frighten. Either something looks creepy or out of place and unsettles the viewer or an unusual or a loud noise is used to startle the audience.

The written word however is more malleable. It has to rely on mood, tone, and the use of description or dialogue to let the reader’s imagination frighten itself. It’s because of this that written works can often be far more scary than anything you can watch or listen to.

One that in particular got to me is H. P. Lovecraft’s Rats in the Walls.

I will try not to give it away which will be difficult because I will have to try to say why it is scary without saying what happens. The brief story set up is as follows:

Narrator/protagonist Delapore leaves his home in Massachusetts (a place his family settled after being run out of their ancestral home) but returns to his family estate, Exham Priory, in England where the locals are unhappy of his return. During his stay in the old house he hears a sound like rats scurrying through the walls and his cat responds to them as well. He has dreams throughout the story featuring strange demon-like beings overseeing fleshy humanoid creatures, and these dreams become more clear as the story progresses. After following the sound of the rats to a stony cellar Delapore and a group of adventurers explore the dank caverns beneath the priory and find the horrors within.

What is truly unsettling is the tone and the flashes of imagery used to uncover the history of the Delapore family. The story starts slowly, in the deliberate pace used by Lovecraft in all his writing. Unlike the more famous Call of Cthulhu or the more in-your-face Herbert West Reanimator this story doesn’t even sound like a horror story in the beginning. He establishes the character of Delapore. We learn of his family, his son, and his reasons for returning “home.” The tension builds as he spends more time in his family estate. As you plunge into the cavern and more and more is found out the darkness takes hold and the story is told in primal flashes and in maddening staccatos. I think of this story like Berlioz’s Symphony Fantastique where a slow, sometimes curious pace leads up to a conclusion that rips you into vertigo as discordant strains make your hairs stand on end.

I truly think it’s the best horror story I’ve ever read, better than anything earlier or anything more modern. It’s imagery that will stay with you after you’ve read it. Lovecraft told you what was there…but your own mind gave it life to haunt the darkest places in your thoughts for years to come.

If You Want to Write: Wrap Up

We’ve reached the end of the If You Want to Write series. For a small book, there’s a lot to discuss and learn, and hopefully, we’ll become better writers from it. Not better in terms of quality, but better in the sense that we are more true to ourselves.

In the final chapter, Ueland lists 12 things we should keep in mind while writing. I picked my favorite five:

1. Know you are talented, original, and have something important to say.
Many of us struggle with this. We doubt ourselves and our abilities, but if we work hard and stick with it, there’s no limit to what we can do.

2. Work is good.
People tell me I’m crazy because I enjoy working. I’m not a workaholic; I know when to take a break, but I do enjoy working. It always pays off one way or another, and it beats watching TV all the time. Also, we should love what we do, and if not, we need to change something. We spend too much time working to hate it.

3. Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories.
I love this advice. Ueland says in order to know what’s wrong with a story, write two or three more and go back to the first. “Good” writers learn from their mistakes and work to fix them. And it doesn’t matter if people like it – write for you.

4. Don’t be afraid of yourself.
We all have demons, baggage, hang-ups, whatever. We all get in our own heads and may be afraid of what we’ll find if we open up. People may judge us. None of it matters. Be whoever you want to be, and let those emotions pour out. At the very least, you’ll feel better.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Ueland says because we are all unique, we are incomparable. We should not criticize because they do not write like we do. We should not question ourselves because someone is better. We should stay true to ourselves and our art.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit digs deep into the emotion it takes to write passionately. Ueland encourages us to write with honesty and love ourselves. With that, here is a poem I dug up. Can you guess what it’s about? 🙂

My eyes burn, heavy lids
eyelashes itch, dry skin peels.
Muscles ache, hunched
wrinkled hands, cracked.
Jaws clinched, I bite
my lower lip.
The day is done,
what do I do?
Complain about the day’s past.
A line appears across my forehead,
but what’s the point?
Another day gone by,
another eight hours done.
What is the point?

If you haven’t bought the book, check it out, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. May it inspire all artists!

Slimed: Nick’s History – Part 2

“What’s the point of being safe? Let’s be raw…We hoped our irreverence and the voice we were speaking in would inspire kids.” – Will McRobb, “The smartest guy in the room at Nickelodeon”

And inspire they did. As promised last week, we’re going to dive back into Slimed! An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, a fun book that tells the story of the network’s heyday.

So, why was 80s-90s Nick so great? At the time, it was edgy and different. All of the shows were completely different from one another, and sometimes they had little-to-no budget to make it all work. It wasn’t pretty sets and people; it was real kids doing real things. Kids played and competed in healthy ways, got dirty outside, made fools of themselves – and it was good.

Back then, Nick’s mission was to be “the network for kids”, and they succeeded by raising a generation of people who love cartoons and still have a great sense of humor (well, most of us). It wasn’t politically correct, and it wasn’t afraid to address real-world issues. If you ask anyone who grew up in the 90s if they had a favorite Nick show, they’ll say yes. They’ll probably list a few. In fact, I own all available seasons of Are You Afraid of the Dark, Salute Your Shorts, Hey Dude, and Clarissa Explains It All.

Here are a few more highlights from the book:

  • Characters – I found it interesting that certain actors are very different from the characters they played on the show. For example, Joe O’Conner and Elizabeth Hess, who played Clarissa’s parents. O’Conner played a very laid-back dad, whereas Hess played the more rigid, health-conscience mom. Their interviews showed that O’Conner was kind of uptight, and Hess supported Melissa Joan Heart and her controversial career decisions.
  • Child Actors – We hear so much about child/teen actors cracking from the celebrity-status pressure. I was relieved to read that most of these stars turned out well. Many of them have families and normal lives, and some continued their acting career and stayed in the business. There are a few that seemed to struggle, but that’s life, and considering how big Nick was in the 90s, it’s nice to know stardom didn’t ruin their lives.
  • Doug – I’ve always wondered why Doug moved to Disney, and the book tells the story. The show wasn’t the same; it was almost too cutesy and lost what little edge Doug had (compared to other Nick cartoons). I didn’t continue to watch it, and if I wanted Disney, I’d pop in a movie. Nick knew how to do cartoons.
  • Ren and Stimpy – Did you know the creator was kicked off his own show? I’m not telling the full story – because you’ll want to read the book – but it involved money, censorship issues, and a controversial episode called Man’s Best Friend, which was banned. The episode is now available on DVD, and after doing some digging, I don’t see the big deal. There are way worse things on now in content and quality.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and check out the book. It’s worth the read!

I also want to send out a special shout-out to the author Mathew Klickstein who messaged us this week and thanked us for our review. It helped restore my faith that some people are just so cool. Happy reading!

Slimed: Nick’s History – Part 1

Ah… slime. I’ve been watching people get slimed on TV for most of my life. It’s gross, slippery, and green. It’s a staple of the best kid’s cable network, Nickelodeon.

Last year, I read Slimed: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age by Mathew Klickstein. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was very excited to get a behind-the-scenes look at my favorite shows and characters I watched while growing up.

I’ve had a few people ask if they’d like it. My answer is this: If you loved Nickelodeon in the 80s and 90s, yes. I don’t want to spoil TOO much because there are some doozies and surprises – some even shocked me. There was a lot of drama, hurt feelings, good times, and of course, slime.

This week I’m focusing on the random things that stuck out, and next week I’ll get into the drama – and there was a lot of drama. But, let’s keep it light and have some fun!

  • Scott Webb was one of the early creator’s of the network, and he’s described as “bleeding orange”. He was diagnosed with an eye disease early on and became legally blind. It didn’t stop him though, and with his team, they did some amazing things. If you look at some of the sets and designs, it’s pretty inspiring that a blind man helped create that.
  • You Can’t Do That on Television was one of the most controversial kids shows ever. I remember my mom banning me from this show, but I watched it at other people’s houses (sorry, mom). But, after reading all about it, I can see why she did. It was dark. It was raw. For example Barth’s Burgers joked about cutting human meat into burgers. There’s no way they would get away with that today!
  • Many of the kids wore their own clothes. If you go back and watch the shows, you can see the ones that were really low budget (You Can’t Do That) and the ones that weren’t (Clarissa). They recruited a lot of kids from Canada and had them as they were. At one point, they gave a kid $100 bucks for clothes and said buy whatever. If you know Nickelodeon today, you see a big difference because everything is modern and trendy.
  • The kid actors were schooled on set. There were several tutors and relatives who helped out. One lady was a hearing-impaired foreign language teacher, and many of the actors talk about how crazy it was because she could read their lips and tell whether they were speaking the language correctly.
  • The crews really cared about the kids. They talk about not using focus groups and talking to the kids instead. They made sure they were safe and educated. And it’s interesting that most of them ended up becoming regular adults with jobs and families; they didn’t get into drugs and partying and blow up the press.
  • The story of slime. I definitely don’t want to ruin this, but I’ll give you a hint. It was an accident, and the original idea started with rancid food. Alan Goodman, a writer and creator, says that the problem with slime today is that “grown ups got a hold of slime and made it pretty.” It wasn’t pretty back in the day.

Be sure to read next week as I talk about characters, the drama behind Doug and Ren and Stimpy, and the mess that went down when it all changed!

If You Want to Write: People Make a Difference

Happy New Year, everyone! As 2014 kicks off, we’re full of excitement as we set our resolutions or simply hope that things will not suck. In honor of new beginnings and change, let’s talk about something that motivates us: people.

Ueland’s chapter 15 “a fountain of ideas” touches on something much deeper. Yes, we are full of ideas – good and bad – but we need certain things in order for those ideas to blossom. We need courage, faith, rest, and as much as I hate it sometimes, people.

Friends, family, coworkers, strangers. People surround us all the time, and whether we admit it or not, they influence who we are and how we act. They can make or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. In order to be ourselves and write from our true forms, we must decide who is worth our time and energy. We must weed out those who hold us back and doubt our abilities, because with doubt, there are fewer possibilities.

In order to be a fountain of ideas and let our creativity seep out, we must know how to handle people – “to work and shine eternally.” Enjoy these tips!

Avoid negativity: This is my biggest challenge. I feel the need to fix things, but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to stop trying – if only for a few hours – and get away from what brings you down. Negativity can destroy creativity.

Meet new people: I love meeting new cool people. Yes, I hate people as a whole, but every now and then I meet someone who is worth time and attention. My best friends are these people; they are people I have developed long-term relationships with, some for more than a decade.

Pay attention: If you want people to listen to you, listen to them. You can also test your observation skills by really listening and getting to know them. You never know when a small detail will fuel something bigger.

Laugh A LOT: We should laugh as much as possible. It’s a great stress release, and the world is too serious. Find those people who make you laugh until your abs hurt and your eyes tear up. Those people are special.

Take a break: Socializing can be exhausting, and we don’t always feel like chatting. Don’t force it, and take a break when needed. If someone gets upset about it, they’ll live. If they are good for you, they will be there when you’re ready.

Be yourself: Honesty goes a long way, and not everyone appreciates or can handle it. It’s okay. Part of fueling your creativity is to not fear who you are and letting those ideas pour out. Your audience knows when you’re bullstuffing them, so don’t do it. Use the good and bad to write honest pieces.

Feel free to share your tips below, and happy writing!