Stephen King on Taxes

In an expletive-filled post, Stephen King says he wants to pay more taxes. King also explains:

Most rich folks paying 28 percent taxes do not give out another 28 percent of their income to charity. Most rich folks like to keep their dough. They don’t strip their bank accounts and investment portfolios. They keep them and then pass them on to their children, their children’s children. And what they do give away is—like the monies my wife and I donate—totally at their own discretion. That’s the rich-guy philosophy in a nutshell: don’t tell us how to use our money; we’ll tell you.

And here is Stephen King’s message to Mitt Romney:

I don’t want you to apologize for being rich; I want you to acknowledge that in America, we all should have to pay our fair share. That our civics classes never taught us that being American means that—sorry, kiddies—you’re on your own. That those who have received much must be obligated to pay—not to give, not to “cut a check and shut up,” in Governor Christie’s words, but to pay—in the same proportion. That’s called stepping up and not whining about it. That’s called patriotism, a word the Tea Partiers love to throw around as long as it doesn’t cost their beloved rich folks any money.

Fun read, even if you disagree with King’s arguments.

Writing Advice from C.S. Lewis

In June of 1956, a young American fan named Joan Lancaster sent C.S. Lewis a letter. Lancaster received a letter back in which C.S. Lewis offered the following writing advice:

1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else.

2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’timplement promises, but keep them.

3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”

4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”

5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

A lot of these tips appear in Stephen King’s On Writing. But it’s good to know when/how writing tips are recycled and offered as wisdom time and time again.

On Word Choice

This is a great post on word choice in writing:

1. A Series of Word Choices

Here’s why this matters: because both writing and storytelling comprise, at the most basic level, a series of word choices. Words are the building blocks of what we do. They are the atoms of our elements. They are the eggs in our omelets. They are the shots of liquor in our cocktails. Get it right? Serendipity. Get it wrong? The air turns to arsenic, that cocktail makes you puke, this omelet tastes like balls.

 2. Words Define Reality

Words are like LEGO bricks: the more we add, the more we define the reality of our playset. “The dog fucked the chicken” tells us something. “The Great Dane fucked the chicken” tells us more. “The Great Dane fucked the bucket of fried chicken on the roof of Old Man Dongweather’s barn, barking with every thrust” goes the distance and defines reality in a host of ways (most of them rather unpleasant). You can over-define. Too many words spoil the soup. Find the balance between clarity, elegance, and evocation.

 3. The “Hot and Cold” Game

You know that game — “Oh, you’re cold, colder, colder — oh! Now you’re getting hot! Hotter! Hotter still! Sizzling! Yay, you found the blueberry muffin I hid under the radiator two weeks ago!” –? Word choice is like a textual version of that game where you try to bring the reader closer to understanding the story you’re trying to tell. Strong, solid word choice allows us to strive for clarity (hotter) and avoid confusion (colder).

 4. Most with Fewest

Think of it like a different game, perhaps: you’re trying to say as much as possible with as few words as you can muster. Big ideas put as briefly as you are able. Maximum clarity with minimum words.

 5. The Myth of the Perfect Word

Finding the perfect word is as likely as finding a downy-soft unicorn with a pearlescent horn riding a skateboard made from the bones of your many enemies. Get shut of this notion. The perfect is the enemy of the good. For every sentence and every story you have a plethora of right words. Find a good word. Seek astrong word. But the hunt for a perfect word will drive you into a wide-eyed froth. Though, according to scholars, “nipplecookie” is in fact the perfect word. That’s why Chaucer used it so often. Truth.

Read the rest of this pithy, funny post (note advice #9 and #11). I like the conclusion:

Write to be read. Choose words that have flavor but do not overwhelm, that reach out instead of pushing back, that sound right to the ear and carry with them a kind of rhythm. Write with confidence, not with arrogance. Don’t be afraid to play with words. But be sure to let the reader play with you.

And after you’re done reading the post, and you’re serious about improving your craft (of writing), make sure to grab Stephen King’s classic On Writing. It’s the best book I’ve read filled with practical advice on how you can improve your writing.

The Cult and Culture of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

This is an interesting New York Times piece exploring the cult and culture of Stanley Kubrick’s film, The Shining:

Three decades on, scholars and fans are still trying to decipher this puzzle of a film directed by Stanley Kubrick. To them it’s only ostensibly about an alcoholic father, Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) going more than stir crazy while his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall), and son, Danny, try to cope in an isolated hotel, the Overlook. Mr. Kubrick was famously averse to offering explanations of his films — “I have found it always the best policy to allow the film to speak for itself,” he once wrote — which has led to a mind-boggling array of theories about just what he was up to.

The hotel’s hedge maze, many Kubrick authorities agree, is a reference to the myth of the Minotaur; others have drawn convincing connections between the Overlook’s well-stocked pantry and the confectionery cottage in Hansel and Gretel. The more one views the film — and many of these scholars admit to viewing it hundreds of times — the more symbols and connections appear. 

“Room 237,” the first full-length documentary by the director Rodney Ascher, examines several of the most intriguing of these theories. It’s really about the Holocaust, one interviewee says, and Mr. Kubrick’s inability to address the horrors of the Final Solution on film. No, it’s about a different genocide, that of American Indians, another says, pointing to all the tribal-theme items adorning the Overlook Hotel’s walls. A third claims it’s really Kubrick’s veiled confession that he helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings.

When Mr. Ascher first began discussing the project with his friend Tim Kirk, who would later become the film’s producer, the two were simply hoping to find enough fans and theories to flesh out a series of short films, maybe something to post on YouTube. “On paper it seems like a very specific niche,” Mr. Ascher said, speaking at the oldest standing Bob’s Big Boy, in Burbank, not far from a campus of the New York Film Academy, where he teaches a class in editing. “The Secret Meanings of ‘The Shining’ — we should be able to wrap that up pretty quick. But the thing kept growing and growing.” By the time the two were done, “Room 237,” which had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, was nearly two hours long.

What they had stumbled upon was a subculture of Kubrick fans that has been expanding over the last several years. The group includes professors and historians, fanboys and artists, many of whom have posted their theories online accompanied by maps, videos, and pages-long explications pleading their cases. The Liverpudlian filmmaker Rob Ager’s video analyses of “The Shining” have garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube hits; the voluminous online essays of Kevin McLeod, a k a “mstrmnd,” range from the film’s marketing materials to its many uses of artificial light.

This is rather peculiar:

The documentary’s biggest leap of faith comes with Jay Weidner, who posits that Mr. Kubrick helped NASA fake the Apollo Moon landings, then used “The Shining” to both confess his involvement — and brag about it. Mr. Weidner is at work on a DVD about the Kubrick-Apollo connection, his second, and cites as evidence a sweater worn by Danny with “Apollo 11” on it, and the hexagonal design on the hotel hallway carpet pattern, which he argues is a dead ringer for the aerial view of the Apollo launching pad. “The entire substory of ‘The Shining,’ ” Mr. Weidner said in an interview, “is the story of Kubrick making the Apollo footage and then trying to hide it from his wife, and then her finding out about it.”

In case you are wondering, Room 237 is a reference to a haunted room in the hotel, though the NYT piece attests that we still won’t learn what The Shining is after watching the film.

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Related: Wikipedia has an extensive section of The Shining in popular culture.

Who Was the First Novelist to Use a Word Processor?

The literary history of the typewriter has its well-established milestones, with Mark Twain producing the first typewritten manuscript with Life on the Mississippi. But what about the first novel produced with a word processor? From an interesting New York Times piece, we learn about Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, an associate professor of English at the University of Maryland, who is on a mission to answer this question:

Uncovering a clean answer to the question “Who was the first novelist to use a word processor?” is a trickier business, though Mr. Kirschenbaum has promising leads. Through his agent he recently heard that the science-fiction writer Frank Herbert, the author of “Dune,” who died in 1986, may have submitted work to his publisher in the late 1970s on 8-inch floppy disks.

From his website, Kirschenbaum notes about his project:

The project I will be working on is entitled “Track Changes: Authorship, Archives, and Literary Culture After Word Processing.” Unlike my first book, Mechanisms (2008), where I was primarily interested in experimental instances of electronic literature, here I will be looking at the impact of digital media throughout all sectors of contemporary literary composition, publishing, reception, and archival preservation. I intend to argue that the full parameters of computers as what electronic publishing pioneer Ted Nelson three decades ago called “literary machines” have not yet been fully delineated, and that as a consequence we conceive of print and the digital as rival or successive forms rather than as elements of a process wherein relations between the two media (at the level of both individual and collective practice) are considerably more dynamic and contingent.

On a related note, it seems that Stephen King was one of the leaders in using a word processor to publish his stories/novels. Mr. King’s first computer — a behemoth with a beige molded casing, built-in monochrome screen, and an $11,500 price tag — has enjoyed a certain cultish afterlife. The name of Stephen King’s his first computer? Stephen King’s Wang. And Matthew G. Kirschenbaum is trying to buy it.

Stephen King on Successful Novels

Stephen King was blown away by The Lord of the Flies when he first read it as a child. In this interview in The Telegraph, he goes on to explain how he found the novel and why it appeals to him. But the biggest takeaway are his thoughts on what makes a successful novel (emphasis mine):

To me, Lord of the Flies has always represented what novels are for; what makes them indispensable. Should we expect to be entertained when we read a story? Of course. An act of the imagination that doesn’t entertain is a poor act indeed. But there should be more. A successful novel should erase the boundary line between writer and reader, so they can unite. When that happens, the novel becomes a part of life – the main course, not the dessert. A successful novel should interrupt the reader’s life, make him or her miss appointments, skip meals, forget to walk the dog. In the best novels, the writer’s imagination becomes the reader’s reality. It glows, incandescent and furious. I’ve been espousing these ideas for most of my life as a writer, and not without being criticised for them. If the novel is strictly about emotion and imagination, the most potent of these criticisms go, then analysis is swept away and discussion of the book becomes irrelevant.

This is why I read fiction.

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Hat tip: @matthiasrascher

A Gradual Canticle for Augustine

I’m currently reading Stephen King’s On Writing, and while I generally don’t post reviews/quotes from a book until after I’ve finished reading, this poem within the book was too good not to share.

On pages 63-64 of the book, Stephen King describes how he met his wife, Tabitha Spruce. Stephen and Tabitha both attended a poetry workshop in the living room of instructor Jim Bishop’s house. Stephen King transcribes one of Tabitha’s poems, titled “A Gradual Canticle for Augustine”:

The thinnest bear is awakened in the winter
by the sleep-laughter of locusts,
by the dream-blustering of bees,
by the honeyed scent of desert sands
that the wind carries in her womb
into the distant hills, into the houses of Cedar.

The bear has heard a sure promise
Certain words are edible; they nourish
more than snow heaped upon silver plates
or ice overflowing golden bowls. Chips of ice
from the mouth of a lover are not always better,
Nor a desert dreaming always a mirage.
The rising bear sings a gradual canticle
woven of sand that conquers cities
by a slow cycle. His praise seduces
a passing wind, traveling to the sea
wherein a fish, caught in a careful net,
hears a bear’s song in the cool-scented snow.

Elegant and graceful. According to Stephen King: there was silence when Tabby finished reading. King describes the poem as exhibiting a “combination of crafty diction and delirious imagery.” I wanted to highlight this poem because it is the most vivid thing I’ve read all day.

In case you are wondering about the title: St. Augustine, the Latin-speaking theologian, wrote the Libertine’s Prayer, which goes “O Lord, make me chaste… but not yet.” In St. Augustine’s writing, he focused on man’s struggle to give up belief in self in favor of belief in God. And in the process, he sometimes likened himself to a bear.