What I Learned from The Stand…a Blog in Two Parts, but Really One Big One.

I find it hard to believe that I haven’t talked to you guys since November. It feels like just yesterday we were strolling down Pumpkin-Head Lane counting all the piked up zombie heads.

My, but the year has flown. I haven’t made any New Year’s Resolutions to write more, or even write less. I haven’t made any false promises to myself. Truth be told, I never was any good at that sort of stuff.

Every promise I’ve ever made to myself I’ve broken. So, I’ve found it hard to write an advice column on writing when in all honesty, this is the first time I’ve put pen to paper or word to screen since my last blog.

But, I’ve found some minor successes inside of these past few months of barren word counts. It’s something I wish I did more of.

Not dishes, not chores, not even going outside to sing and dance and play in the rain…although, if we were to get some rain right now I’d probably do a cartwheel. Dry season sucks. Especially when you get the humidity of a mid-afternoon thunderstorm without the relief in the release of the pouring rain.

This is a little something that I’ve forgotten to do in the age of fancy whiz-bang toys and video games, in a world where entertainment value is measured by how much product we can place in a thirty second television spot.

That’s right. I picked up a book.

And then I picked up another book.

And another.

It all started with 11/22/63, I’d always much rather preferred my Koontz to King. For reasons I can’t even begin to explain. But, I picked it up on a promise to a friend. Stephen King was in town out in Hillsborough County where he’d been snowbirding since probably before I was born. Since he had a winter house on a private island out there, he decided to do a book signing at the local Barnes and Noble. It was my first book signing event for a big time author with a big time lead in.

I agreed to go with my friend, who was a much more devout fan than I. So, we piled into his trusty old Civic and drove the three plus hours over to the west coast of Florida. We got there reasonably early, considering we got up at like the butt-crack of dawn. I called the book store halfway there to make sure it wasn’t a waste of time, only to be told by a friendly book seller that people had been camping out all night.

All. Night. Long.

And that just blew my mind, especially considering we were there in the early days of November and there was holiday shopping and stuff still to come. I’d seen the crazy campers for concert tickets or Black Friday deals, but a book store? For a book signing? You’ve got to be kidding me. There won’t be a line.

I mean, don’t people just watch TV or play video games now? We saw all the video footage from the riots in London where electronic stores were smashed out and ransacked by looters. In that very same footage we saw the nearby Waterstones unscathed by the civil unrest.

Wow.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. And it was one of those little moments where the light bulb goes off and the heavenly choir sings. I felt good.

I felt home, even though I was three hundred plus miles away and standing in line for hours on end.

Truth be told, I had thought that humanity was lost and truly for a moment believed that arts were a dying life form.

When I got there though, it was amazing.

For those that have never gone to a book signing, don’t be afraid. This was my first too.

In the Superstars Seminar where I met my fellow Fictorians, I remember hearing a topic of discussion on the anatomy of a book signing from the author’s perspective. To see it from a reader’s perspective was a whole different game. I think I was able to appreciate it more for the event it was because I had not been one of those die hard fans.

But, the line was through the building and wrapped around the store twice. There were literally hundreds of people there.

And like three cops to keep the peace.

But, it was the most peaceful setting I think I had ever been in for a major shopping frenzy. I mean, people were jovial and on their best behavior. Neighbors in line were striking up conversations like old friends. And living here in South Florida, it was a rarity to see people actually get along.

In the midst of all the chaos and violence, hundreds of people had found their peace in a common interest. And it was like kumbaya campfire tales.

Seriously. For being herded like cattle through all the hot new best sellers and teenage vampire and angst lit, it was the best experience of my life. The two to three hour line really didn’t seem so long. People were reading on their kindles and nooks, sonys and hardbacks. And it was just this great…almost comic-con like atmosphere.

B&N get my respect for having it down to such a controlled science. Early people get one color, other people get another, line up here, stand there. Go this way, now go that way. Hand your book to a bookseller who runs the assembly line down to Mr. King to another bookseller then to you.

And Stephen King wasn’t doing a Q&A or interview or speech or anything. It was just a strict book signing. And halfway through, we found out the poor guy had the flu. And was there to keep his prior engagement to his fans. He didn’t cut the line short or end it at like 100 people. He swore he would stay until the last fan got their book signed.

And he sure did.

For that, I respected the man that much more. I gave him another look.

It was a truly inspiring event that I probably wouldn’t have even considered if my friend didn’t twist my arm and make me go.

But I read 11/22/63. And I enjoyed the hell out of it. As I was reading, characters and events from other books popped up randomly like King had woven this one giant tapestry of a world. And it made me curious for more. So I went back in and re-read The Dark Tower. And saw more references pop up.

The Dark Tower was a book I really hadn’t read in….wow. Close to fifteen years. All I remembered was it was a “weird, gothic western”….and when I envisioned Golden Hills, the memories of my childhood under an old sycamore came flooding back. And the first thing I thought of was The Dark Tower brand of weird western. And even though I hadn’t read the book in close to fifteen years and probably forgot more than I even knew in the first place, the atmosphere just kept creeping back to me.

And I wanted it. Bad.

So, when I finished The Dark Tower (No, I didn’t read the whole series. Come on! I still have to finish the Wheel of Time), I turned my attention to a book I had never read before, but had always been told to look into.

That book was a little novel called The Stand. You may have heard of it? Seriously. It’s little. Like, maybe only 100 pages. Go ahead, you can get through it in an hour.

And I did this weird stutter-stop when I read it. I’ve been slowly paging through, I think I made it to like 33% of the book and now I’m definitely hooked again.

The one thing that kept sticking out as I read it was how familiar it all SOUNDED.

That’s a key word, folks.

I’ve written the way I’ve written for close to six years. And every time I’d write something, I’d be told all sorts of nasty things about POV and how you SHOULD DO THINGS!

And if it’s not proper english with proper sentence structure and proper thoughts and proper this that and whatever…

Truth is, the only thing proper is what’s proper for your story.

Cormac McCarthy, one of the literary darlings of the 21st century absolutely despises punctuation and quotes.

But everyone loves his stream-of-conscious style writing.

And as I was reading The Stand I kept coming back to my own books.

I noticed a simple stylistic similarity that I never would have picked up if I didn’t read my own books fifteen times.

Me and Stephen, you see, we’re a lot alike.

When he writes a POV, he writes a POV. That’s all there is to it. You can’t get any farther into that character’s skull without worrying about how you’re going to get your head out of his nose.

And I loved it. Every moment.

I’ve always said that the reason I write is because these are the types of stories I want to read.

Had I known there was a multi-million dollar author out there doing the exact same thing.

Well then.

Maybe I wouldn’t have started writing!

It’s really amazing to look at the different styles of writing out there. Patrick Rothfuss has a very literary style. His words are like honeyed words on a lover’s lips. R.A. Salvatore has a nose for a good adventure yarn. Stephanie Meyer, vilified in the “circle” has a great knack for being able to connect to a teenage voice.

My advice to you this month is to read more. Stress less.

If you get lost in your own story, go pick up someone else’s. There’s plenty out there that just might light the fire in your pants. I can’t read books to study them. I hate that word, study. It’s nasty. Like eating mud pies. And not the good chocolate kind. I read to enjoy myself.

I write for the same reason.

You never know what you’re going to learn on the road less traveled.

And be careful about that guy sitting next to you hocking up a lung at work. He just might have Captain Tripps.

Seriously, for the first three weeks after reading the first part of The Stand, I was jumping at every sneeze and cough.

*Sneezes* Oh…er… Excuse me. It’s just allergies. 😉

Happy Reading!

 

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