Book Review: On Writing, and No Plot? No Problem!

Today I’m doing something a little different. I’m reviewing two books in one go. There are certain books that are more difficult to give a longer review to. I find that books on writing are among these.  On Writing by Stephen King is one of my favorite non-fiction books, and it just doesn’t seem right to not review No Plot, No Problem by Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, during November. So while these reviews are shorter, the books are still wonderful writing resources and lovely reads!

On Writing

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Author: Stephen King

Genre: Memoir, reference

Summary: Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

My Opinion: While I don’t agree with everything in this book, Stephen King is a brilliant teacher. I really do love this book and will gladly give it five stars.

The first part of the book is mostly dedicated to King’s writing journey, how he started writing and how he got to where he is today. This is filled with humor and interesting life and writing advice. The second half is more focused on exactly what it takes to be a writer. For example, you must be a reader. You must have an interest in writing in the first place. King goes on to set up the writer’s tool-box. Here he covers everything from tricky grammar rules to how to make the most out of descriptions while staying true to your voice. All the while King makes the book feel personal. His humor shines through and there’s plenty of parts in it that challenge you not only as a writer, but as a person. True, this book is a memoir, but it’s also a guide to the writing life and a friendly pat on the shoulder. If you’re interested in writing or a fan of Stephen King, I strongly recommend this book.

 

No Plot? No Problem!

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Author: Chris Baty

Genre: Non-fiction, reference

Summary: You’ve always wanted to write, but . . . just haven’t gotten around to it. No Plot? No Problem! is the kick in the pants you’ve been waiting for.

Let Chris Baty, founder of the rockin’ literary marathon National Novel Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo), guide you through four exciting weeks of hard-core noveling. Baty’s pep talks and essential survival strategies cover the initial momentum and energy of Week One, the critical “plot flashes” of Week Two, the “Can I quit now?” impulses of Week Three, and the champagne and roar of the crowd during Week Four. Whether you’re a first-time novelist who just can’t seem to get pen to paper or a results-oriented writer seeking a creative on-ramp into the world of publishing, this is the adventure for you.

So what are you waiting for? The No Plot? approach worked for the thousands of people who’ve signed up for NaNoWriMo, and it can work for you! Let No Plot? No Problem! help you get fired up and on the right track.

My Opinion: YOU DO NOT NEED TO WRITE YOUR NOVEL IN 30 DAYS TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF THIS BOOK. Ok there, now that we have that out of the way, let’s continue shall we?

The latter part of the book is for if you’re going to go through with the “write a novel in 30 days” challenge. For some people that’s just not their thing, and the advice changes more into encouragement in this section. If you’ve done NaNoWriMo before (as I have), most of the stuff in the later section of the book will be familiar to you. Also Baty’s writing style was a little off for me at times. But that’s just personal preference. Because of that I rated this book four stars.

This book is funny. It’s got silly ideas, funny metaphors, and yet somehow it all comes together to make sense and give some practical writing advice. Some of this advice I wouldn’t have thought of on my own but it makes a great deal of sense. It’s writing advice that you can use for planning out a novel you’ll write over the course of a year or for your history paper due in 3 days. It was those nuggets of advice that really endeared the book to me. It also gave tips on how to keep yourself organized as a writer, how gather ideas, and how to make your dialogue and character interactions sound genuine. This book lacked depth, but it made up for that with a plethora of encouragement and good ideas to get you started on your own writing journey. Even if you know NaNoWriMo isn’t your thing, I think this is still a good book to read simply because of the good ideas. Even the sheets in the back, typically used for NaNoWriMo, can be made useful. This book isn’t about writing yours in 30 days as much as it is about giving yourself a strict timeline, giving yourself motivation to stick to that timeline, and then giving yourself rewards for meeting your goals. It’s a fun and quick read that’s quite handy.

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Book Review: Insomnia

|+|Triggers: Gore, domestic abuse, unreality|+|

“Getting old is certainly no job for sissies, is it?” -Bill McGovern (Insomnia)

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Goodreads |+| Amazon |+| Barnes & Noble

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Weird Fiction/Horror

Summary: Since his wife died, Ralph Roberts has been having trouble sleeping. Each night he wakes up a bit earlier, until he’s barely sleeping at all. During his late night walks, he observes some strange things going on in Derry, Maine. He sees colored ribbons streaming from people’s heads, two strange little men wandering around town after dark, and more. He begins to suspect that these visions are something more than hallucinations brought on by lack of sleep.

There’s a definite mean streak running through this small New England city; underneath its ordinary surface awesome and terrifying forces are at work. The dying has been going on in Derry for a long, long time. Now Ralph is part of it…and lack of sleep is the least of his worries.

My Opinion: Politics. Abuse. Insomnia. Death. Aging. This book is about a multitude of things and I was shocked with how well handled those topics were. The diversity was lacking in parts (no PoC, although there was some GLBTA+), though the characters were incredibly fleshed out and realistic. This book is a slow and fascinating burn, even if it’s a bit too slow at times. Overall I gave this book four stars.

Insomnia is incredibly complex, and part of the beauty of it is that you think you know what is going on, you think the book is about one thing, and the deeper you get the more and more you realize (along with the characters) that you’re not quite right-but you’re not quite wrong either. It takes a skilled writer to be able to pull that off in a way that’s not aggravating. My one, and perhaps biggest complaint is that despite being able to pull this off, King also goes a bit too slow at times. I felt like there was such a focus in getting into Ralph’s head that the world building suffered. True, this is not King’s first book about Derry, but this is a stand alone novel with a lot of unusual elements that we never get a full grip on. Throughout the book I kept wondering if I needed to go back and read It and then continue Insomnia. Thankfully the book has a lot going for it.

As I mentioned earlier, this book is about a multitude of things, and the topics that stood out most to me were the abuse, politics, and aging.

I adore how King treated abuse. Helen was a battered woman and King detailed her struggles and showed the impact abuse has not only on the victim but the victim’s friends as well. Helen was so much more than her abuse and throughout her escape from it she grew a lot. It was so refreshing to see because far too often another man has to come in and “fix” the broken victim. Helen heals herself without a man having to “rescue” her. This wasn’t a core topic but it was an important one that helped move the plot forward, and it was treated well. I just don’t see that kind of thing often enough in books and I’m so grateful that it was in here.

Tying into the abuse is the politics. Now this is one of the core elements of the book as the town of Derry is going crazy because a pro-choice speaker is set to come to the town to do a talk. The politics in the book focus on what happens when extremists take hold of a town and fear starts doing the talking. Through this we see the extremists’ thoughts, the thoughts of their victims (Helen for example), and we also see how people in the middle, who aren’t extremist for either side, are impacted. It’s unusual for me to read a book that actually explains the logic of an extremist while still showing that their violent actions are wrong and unjustifiable, while acknowledging that the extremist is still human. Each character, no matter where they stood on the subject had reasons for their thoughts, even if other characters or the reader didn’t agree with them.

Aging is a “terrifying” thing. If you’ve taken a developmental psychology class you know that the way media portrays older people and aging in general has a serious and most of the time, harmful, impact on the way that younger and older generations a like see the aging process. Typically people my age and younger don’t see older people (aka retired) as anything but boring and a wisdom dispenser. Older people see that in the media too and that leads to a fear of abandonment and lack of enjoyment of one of the most interesting times of life (no, seriously please go look up the psychology it’s really great!). King turns this on his head by writing a book about a retired man learning about a new world, having friends, and kind of sorting becoming a superhero. Ralph is lovable, he’s intelligent, he’s a man of action, while still being able to acknowledge his aging. He’s a man that ages gracefully and winds up having an epic adventure along the way. It was incredibly refreshing to read and reminded me of my grandparents in a very positive way. This is the kind of stuff we need more of.

Unfortunately while the treatment of abuse, politics, and aging were well done, the world building was shaky. This book in the hardback edition is  787 pages long, which leaves plenty of time for world building. Yet from time to time I felt like I needed to go back and read It which takes place in the same town, although Insomnia is clearly a stand alone book. I also felt like some short cuts were taken to not bother explaining certain things. The biggest excuse was the fact that those who were able to explain things and enhance the world building almost always ran out of time. “Oh look at the time! Main characters and you dear reader are going to be wondering about that for the rest of the book! Toodles!” Despite that, for the most part the length of the book is very well used and adds to the depth of Ralph and his friends and the overall mystery and suspense.

This book is long, but it’s an enjoyable slow burn of a book. King takes a lot of ideas and turns them on their head, giving the book a fresh feel while covering a lot of challenging topics. This was my first King book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

TL;DR: Insomnia is an interesting slow burn. It has many unusual elements, and for the most part does a great job of not letting the reader know more than the characters. My biggest complaint is the lack of diversity (yes, we do have some  GLBTA+ characters, although no PoC) and the somewhat shaky world building. Despite this, the characters were well fleshed out, the topics covered were done so respectfully, and King breathes life into what so many of us consider an old and boring story. When you get down to it, Insomnia at its core a story about what it means to grow (up or older, either works) and how everyone, no matter how boring they think they are has power. While I wouldn’t consider this book horror, it’s certainly weird fiction. If you’re into that sort of thing and are looking for a long read, go for Insomnia. You’ll probably stay up past your bedtime reading it.

 

Why I Love Stories About Elderly People and You Should Too

Despite being a hardcore fan of high/urban fantasy, mystery/thriller, and horror, I really love reading the AARP magazines my parents get. I also adore psychology, and seeing the world from a different view point is really enlightening.

For example. If you ask my niece and nephew how old you have to be to be “old” they’d probably say it’s around 50 or so. For people like myself (young adults, 20s-3os), ask us when life stops being fun and most of us would say right around age 60. But no matter who you ask and what answer you get there’s an underlying fear there. That’s not when life stops being fun, that’s when life is over.

You’re old. You’re stuck in the house all the time, doing whatever people in the Silver Sneakers group do, and smiling in those horrible commercials that are just way too fake to be taken seriously and everyone gets secondhand embarrassment from you.

See? Growing old is freaking terrifying!

Or so I thought. When I took a psychology class that focused more on phases of life instead of all around psychology, I learned a lot. The psychology of the aging mind is fascinating. When I was caring for my grandmother with Alzheimer’s, I learned not only a lot about her, I learned a lot about how elderly people live. The same thing happened as I got to know my other grandmother as she aged. Eventually pretty much everything I thought I knew about elderly people was thrown out the window.

Your life doesn’t end when you hit a certain age. Yet media has kind of (ok so it has, there’s plenty of studies on it) brainwashed the way people, especially younger people, think about aging. Which is why I get insanely excited over writing that focuses on people 65+, going about everyday life and doing things like everyone else.

Murder, She Wrote is one of my all time favorite shows (trust me my parents are sick of my near constant marathons of it). Not only does it realistically touch on what it takes to write and publish a book and the challenges that authors so often face, it also shows a retired woman living a full and exciting life, with her friends. Many of them are in the same age bracket as her. The writers of the show created a clever, progressive, sassy, and loving woman and a varied cast of people. Jessica is never less than her young nephew or friends because of her age. She is never confined to just being the knowledge dispenser. She’s so many things to many people. The writers of the show did a fabulous job of giving us 12 seasons of a flawed and interesting woman, who’s age never holds her back from doing what she wants.

I’m currently reading the tome that is Stephen King’s Insomnia. I got it on a whim, because I was bored and wanted to read a book based on the title, and nothing else. I got hooked. I am hooked. The first time I tried reading this book I had health issues that got in the way. Yet it stuck with me. This second go around I’m even deeper in and blown away by how lovingly King writes the story of Ralph and his friends.

Ralph is a retired man, in his 70’s, mourning the loss of his wife. As he starts to get less and less sleep, the more observant he becomes. Unfortunately no one else can see what he can see but that doesn’t stop him from becoming a superhero of sorts.

Ok. Retired people being friends with each other, supporting each other through deaths and births and other life events, creating their own little place in the world and having strong opinions on things, and maybe starting to have superpowers? Sign me up.

When I was younger I used to ignore these kinds of stories but now, I go after them in a heartbeat! If there were more books out there about people in their upper years doing things, anything, I’d read them. Thanks to Murder, She Wrote and Insomnia, as well as my own personal experiences, I’ve realized that I’ve been missing a lot. Positive stories focused on older people are hard to find, but that makes them no less important. This is something I’ll be digging around for a lot more, and I encourage others to do the same.

Stories don’t end just because you hit a certain age, and books were made to tell stories of all kinds of people. There’s such life and adventure in stories about older (65+) people. I’m really into this now and want to get people hooked on this too.