Word count 20,800
The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is about a writer who has written the titular tale. The story that we read however, is about the author’s descent into madness, as told through the eyes of a magazine editor.
This novella is told campfire-style, a formula I am noticing that King employs a lot. It doesn’t always work, as it gives you a (potentially) unreliable narrator, and means you are once-removed from the action, but I have no complaints about it here. Besides, it’s an approach that has served him well.
If we take The Mist out of the equation (because that’s really a short novel in its own right), The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is the longest piece in Skeleton Crew, but for all its length it’s also one of the most straightforward and engaging. It is slightly let down by the final few pages, but otherwise, it is a very enjoyable read.
This week I wrote the first new material for The Ballad of Martha Brody that I have done in years. It’s not much, and it was more than a little spontaneous, but it does mean the story is on my mind.
At the start of the year I mentioned that I was considering going back to this story, and I was… but since that time other pieces have taken precedence. Now I’m ready to – at the very least – include it in my rotation of stories.
The first thing I have to do is find a place within the narrative for the orphaned chapter I wrote some time ago, since the last draft was finished in 2013. After that I need to figure out if this thing can be stretched to a novel (without compromising the story I’m telling), or if it should remain in that literary wasteland where all the other novellas reside.
I’m halfway home with Jack and Patrick’s latest adventure – A Rabbit, A Fairy, and a Fat Man in a Red Suit – and it’s looking good so far. It may be the best one yet. Give me a few more days and I’ll have the framework of a first draft.
I’ve been thinking some more about the possibility of, one day, connecting all these Jack and Patrick stories with some kind of through-line – thereby making each short story a chapter in a longer work.
I know it will be difficult because each piece stands alone; a vaccuum within the larger world of the friendship of those two young boys. Although all of their stories share the same two protagonists, there is very little in the way of character development or plot movement between beginning and end.
That’s fine for what these pieces are at the moment, but it may feel like it lacks depth if I ever wave my magic wand and turn them into a novella.
I haven’t written or read as much as I would like to recently, but then, that could be said for most weeks.
I was given a couple of Stephen King books for Christmas – Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, a novel that is almost as old as I am; and Elevation, a novella that was published late last year. You could (and probably should) read the latter in a single sitting, but it has taken me a few sessions so far, and I’m still just two-thirds through it!
That being said, I’m enjoying it. It’s a very leisurely read and proves (for the umpteenth time) that King is unfairly judged as ‘that guy who writes horror’. When he’s on form he’s simply a great storyteller, regardless of genre.
As for my own writing, I am nearly 4000 words deep into my monster tale, The 07.43 to Blackford Station. It’s coming along nicely, albeit slowly. I’ve got a lot of detail in there, but like a horror novella I wrote in 2013 called The Seventh, I’m a little bit reluctant to present the monster itself. Still, I’m enjoying the process, and that’s the important thing.
I’ve been thinking of going back to my racially charged novella, The Ballad of Martha Brody. It’s a story that had its start in life when I was eighteen and living in Malta, as a 4000 word piece called Talk is Cheap. A couple of iterations and a couple of decades later, and it now weighs in at almost 22,000 words – spiritually the same story written by that clumsy teenager, but practically something with much more depth.
Some time after I had completed it in 2013 – although every writer knows that a story is never truly complete – I wrote another chapter for it. Although it slips in to the narrative quite well it has sat, orphaned, on my laptop for a few years, not really a part of the larger arc. I think I’m just about ready to sew it all together and finally make a concerted effort to see it published, as I do believe it’s one of the best things I’ve produced.
Of course the novella is the bastard child of literature: there are very few places that take them in, and even fewer that are worth bothering with. It is for that reason that I toyed with the idea of turning it into a novel for several months, but I don’t really think it would have the legs for that commitment.
Having said that, in the publishing world a mediocre novel stands a better chance of success than a great novella… so there is that.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 1937
Sometimes your fourth grade English teacher will look through the laundry list of acceptable books to be studied and pull out a clunker – and I’ve certainly had that experience – but occasionally the education system will throw you a bone and you’ll be tasked to read one of the all-time classics, like Of Mice and Men. Thankfully, I had that experience too.
I haven’t picked up Of Mice and Men since it became one of the best things I would read as a teenager, and while the moment to moment details of the story have faded somewhat in the last quarter of a century, the brotherly bond between central characters George and Lennie has stood the test of time, along with Lennie’s often repeated request – ‘Tell me about the rabbits, George.’ Of course, that makes no sense if you haven’t read it, but do yourself a favour and pick up a copy.
Of Mice and Men is probably one of the most popular and well respected novellas out there, and because of its continued popularity in the school curriculum it is constantly being read and appreciated by each new generation.
That’s the kind of legacy all writers should aspire to.
To coincide with the release this week of my horror novella Replay, fellow Australian author and sometime artist, Greg Chapman (who Dark Prints published last year via their novella series) shouted a few questions to me from the other side of the pond.
Hopefully, when he reads the story, he won’t want to pull the interview down!
You can pick up Greg’s effort, Vaudeville, for the special April-only price of 99 Australian cents.
The leggy waitress stood there – a chewed biro in her right hand and a tattered notebook in her left. She tugged at the collar of her too-tight uniform and fanned herself with a plastic menu. Her face was red. She looked like a pimple that was ready to burst.
My horror novella, Replay, is now available for purchase directly from Dark Prints’ website. In the coming days you will also be able to purchase it from other online retailers such as Amazon.
If you do buy it, I’d love to know what you think.
I am pleased to say that my horror novella debut, Replay, will be released electronically by Dark Prints Press on April 15th, for the low-low price of $3.99 Australian (other currencies are available) either as an instant download from the main site, or via e-retailers such as Amazon, Bookworld, and Kobo. Replay is an unapologetic, old-school horror tale about a reunion that should never have been. Fate may be late to the party, but she is always on her way…
I am particularly impressed by the thirty-second promotional video that editor, Craig Bezant, put together for the release:
Dark Prints is an Australian outfit I have been involved with several times over the last few years. I had short fiction in the first four issues of the now sadly defunct ezine Eclecticism; and was also featured in The One That Got Away, a dark crime paperback anthology, released in 2012, so I am very pleased to be extending the relationship further with this release.