Posts Tagged ‘Tad Mori’

Long Hiatus

January 23, 2012

Dear Readers,

It has been a long time since I’ve posted–or, at least, a long time compared to the previous string of posts. My writing momentum hasn’t exactly picked up since the post-Nanowrimo lull, but I have managed a few thousand words here and there, and estimate that my second novel is still 85-90% away from completion. At least, I hope so, and I hope things eventually pick up. Stewie Griffin aptly called one of his intellectual peers “Phony Curtis” in reference to Tony Curtis and the Alan Alda character from “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”  I hope that this doesn’t sound like the half-sincere ramblings of “Phony Curtis” when I say that a finished manuscript is coming soon.

My wife suggested that I do a personal FebNoWriMo to get the project done. I’d be surprised if it took me another 50,000 words to get this done, as I’ve planned for about 15-20k.  However, you never know.  At least I won’t have the latest Stephen King book, 11/22/63 staring me in the face.  At the same time, I need another book to read, and I’ve read a great deal of what King has to offer. I’m not quite sure what my next great read will be, as I haven’t really found any authors that match the tone, narration, and scope of the King novels that I adore.

I enjoy reading King, that’s for sure. After all, that’s where I was, reading King, wondering what it would take for me to take my writing to that level, and that’s what spurred the yarn that I want to share with you this evening. Reader be warned, this may be a bit of a ramble.

Sincerely,

Jim

They say that you can learn a lot about writing from reading, whether it is good writing, bad writing, or somewhere in the middle.  As far as Stephen King’s 11/22/63 went, I won’t pigeonhole it into any of those categories.  Suffice it to say, while it wasn’t my favorite of King’s books, it definitely wasn’t bad, and it definitely wasn’t his worst.  Rather than evaluate it on a “I give this x amount of stars,” allow me to give a rundown about what I liked about it, what I learned from it, and what I think it needed in order to improve.

11/22/63 is a tour de force, and other bloggers in the blogosphere compare it favorably with “The Great Gatsby,” which I wonder how many 20th Century diarists privately complained that Nick Carraway’s character didn’t interact with Jordan or Mr. Gatz or Owl Eyes like he should have.   a King’s epic about a man who enters a 2011 diner and escapes into a 1968 alley is indeed an enjoyable read.  The main character ‘s attempt to stop the Kennedy Assassination–and, by transference, avoid MLK’s, RFK’s, and the entire Nixon administration–follows the hero’s journey, including gate keepers, monsters, and travels across time and country.  From Derry to Dallas, with Florida and Fort Worth in between, Stephen King has created an odyssey that spans two centuries.  Jake Epping is a modern day Homeric hero, but that label extends only so far.

You learn to like the character of Jake Epping.  He’s very similar to other likeable characters in the King universe. He’s an outsider, who is bound to be silent because of what he knows, and who tends to get in trouble when he forgets about that point.  It’s hard to say just where he fits though.  He has all the resources laid out for him, but he isn’t as resourceful as the main character from Cell, Clay Riddell, or the mute Nick Andros from The Stand.  However, when he rids Derry of their violent butcher (is there really any other kind), he shows that he isn’t entirely dependent on having a map to get where he needs to go.  In fact, he proves himself pretty darn ruthless.  At the same time, Jake becomes a likeable character.

One of the tools that King uses to accomplish this likeable character is the use of the first person narrative.  Since Jake knows what is going to happen, he actually moves towards a third person omniscient POV.  One couldn’t say that he is omniscient by any stretch of the imagination, but his ‘map,’ which allows him to foresee the events stretching from ’58 to ’63 accomplishes much more than a normal first person could.  11/22/63 clocks in at over 800 pages, which is quite a lot–and is significantly more than my first novel–but if you’ve seen and sensed the pace at which King writes his novels, you wonder how he could fit 5 years into 800 pages.  After all, many of his other works of that length span a year, maybe a couple of years on the outside, but Jake Epping’s journey covers 5+ years and a half dozen different continuities.  The sense of pace was something that I admired as I read through this book.  Epping might be the first person narrator, but he doesn’t linger long on details that are more or less incidental.  For example, though King creates two sets of teenage characters that serve as dramatic foils to Jake and Sadie, and several other adult relationships that also comment upon Jake’s relationship with Sadie, he only lingers on one other relationship, that of Lee and Marina Oswald.  All of the other potential foils flicker in and out, false green lights and eyes in fading billboards.

I could learn a lot from that pace, that first person narrative, and that likeability of character. Jake talks about the past harmonizing, and leaves it at that.  The two Als, the two teenaged couples, and the two estranged couples that end in death are all evidence of that harmonizing, that pacing, and that will that King has to get through 5+ years in less than two reams of paper. In my latest attempt at a novel, my characters always seem to rise.  At one point, some 110,000 words into the novel, I reintroduce the main character’s mother.  I seriously feel like including the commentary “and my mother? Remember my mother? The last time you saw her, I was in high school” into my text.  I could get away with it–I think.  After all, it’s a first person narrative.  But WWJED?  What would Jake Epping do?  Jake pines for Sadie when she’s not there, he compares her to his estranged ex-wife, who never actually gets any time on stage, and he doesn’t ramble when a character gets re-introduced after not appearing since 1958.

However, like that of Odysseus and Aeneas, Jake’s likability wanes.  Rather than 1400BC, Jake’s starts going south around November of 1963.  Jake, who always seems to do things based on the presumption that what he is doing is for the betterment of all mankind.  When things start to indicate that they will be any different than just that, he starts to come across as selfish.  It’s realistic, in a sense, because everyone seeks to preserve self, just like everyone changes.  If Jake didn’t change in the five years of literary time, I would have been a little disappointed.  However, even with the change, I remain a little disappointed in Jake because of the way in which he changed.  Jake, who had thought of himself as thoughtful and careful starts coming across as brash and reckless.  His motives appear to change in a manner that clashes with his original directive. Because of that, I think that the character arc for Jake Epping is what really needs improvement.

King did everything else well.  As someone who never lived 1963, I came away from 11/22/63 feeling like I understood it much better than any history book would allow.  I learned more about Oswald and Jack Ruby–though I know that the historicity of the characters is immediately called into question due to the fact that this was a work of fiction–than I’d ever learned in Mr. Mullen’s or Mr. Newell’s.  However, when it came to Jake Epping, I put the book away, wondering if Jake Epping was more Nick Carraway or Holden Caulfield. I sympathized with Jake, but started to wonder if I could trust him.  While Odysseus makes his triumphant return to Ithaca, and Aeneas triumphs in the Rome of antiquity, Jake is robbed of his triumphs every step of the way, to the point where you wonder if Jake was the instrument of change, or merely that guy that ends up coughing all throughout John Cage’s 4’33”.

I don’t want my readers to come away with the same feeling about my Tadashi Mori.

There were some lovable characters in 11/22/63.  High on my list, Deke and Sadie both take their turns as ascended secondary characters.  By the end, Sadie is probably right below the protagonist.  However, when it matters, Deke seems to go the same way as Ms. Ellie and the kids lindy-hopping in Derry’s park.  It’s not King’s fault.  Perhaps I’m projecting my own wishes for my characters onto Deke.  By the end of the novel, Deke is thirty-years gone and Jake has aged five years in a day.  I’m still left to wonder if Jake has learned his lesson  I suppose I am learning mine; if I want sympathetic characters, I need to make sure that they remain true to who they are when I introduce them.

With the rant out of the way, and the writing outlined before me, I return to my own novel, hoping that it will one day leave some blogger (or Twitter) discussing/ranting/ruminating (about/because of) it.  I leave you with these two polls.  Thanks for reading.

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Pitch for Novel #2

October 11, 2011

Hello everyone. Thank you for checking in from time to time. I’m going against the advice of the great Stephen King and opening the door just a smidgeon. For the uninitiated, the following is called a pitch. It’s essentially what’s on a book jacket, and it is meant to entice the reader to open to page one and see if the book is worthwhile. Please let me know what you think about the pitch. This is a very rough cut; as such, I am open to suggestions. Thanks!

There are roughly three seven-footers for every million people. What happens when one goes missing?

In 1988, the Slamming Serb turned California high school basketball upside down, taking a high school of under 100 students all the way to the state tournament. In 1989, he disappeared. Twenty-three years later, Tad, a history teacher and basketball fanatic, moves to the small fog-drenched California coastal town with the hopes of finding their legendary lost giant. The town hasn’t forgotten their big man, but nobody’s willing to talk.

If he is going to get anywhere, Tad must enlist in the help of a priest who delivers masses from an ice cream shop, a reclusive millionaire with an eye for antiquities, and the local pariah to help him put together the pieces. In the mean time, Tad must protect his students from a series of strange happenings as old rivalries are made new again. Tad must resolve his own family issues and uncover the truth before the entire town becomes buried by its own pride.

In addition, I’m looking for a working title. Vote for what sounds best, or tell me a better one in the comments.