I didn’t do any fresh writing this month, which – although a little disconcerting – is not altogether unexpected. Covid-19 has knocked everything into a spin, which is certainly no excuse, because I have absolutely had more time to write, but it has tweaked the way I go about my days. One good thing about the pandemic is that I am no longer having to wake up at 4am. That’s something I won’t miss.
I am slowly making my way through my exhaustive filing of stories, and I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. Starting with all the stuff I did far too many years ago to mention, I have filed and dated everything (in colourful lever-arch folders) up to and including 2012. By the time I write next month’s update I am confident I will have it all squared away and be able to dedicate some time to coming up with new stuff.
Over the last few days I have submitted a lot of stories to various markets, primarily to get back in the habit of doing it. There was a time when I’d get a response from a pubisher every day. Now, I go many weeks between replies, and that is mainly because I just don’t throw my stuff out there the way I used to. Well that is going to change. 2020 has not been a good year, but I’m determined to salvage something positive from it.
In other news, I was officialy made redundant this afternoon, so – with the thought that such an endpoint was coming sooner rather than later – I’ve been looking for other work as well. I don’t have anything yet, but I have a few irons in the fire, and I’m sure it won’t be long until I’m back out there earning a wage rather than taking the furlough payment for granted.
Take care folks!
Word count – 13,800
Nona is about a man behind bars who retells the story of how he met an enigmatic woman when he was in college, who subsequently led him down a dark path and co-erced him into committing evil deeds during their brief time together.
Throughout the course of the story it becomes increasingly clear that all is not what it seems with the tale being relayed to the reader. Nona doesn’t do anything new, and although it is quite long, it’s written confidently and King crafts a good relationship between the protagonist and the mysterious woman that may very well not have been there at all.
After a run of three stories that I couldn’t vibe with, it’s nice to have something that is much more satisfying. One of the better entries in this collection.
Word count – 6,300
Beachworld is a science fiction story about two men in the far future who land on another planet, only to find it is completely covered in sand. One of them is hypnotised by the allure of the landscape, while the other spends his time trying to get them out of there.
The best thing about this story is the references to The Beach Boys, scattered throughout, but beyond that I have no connection to the tale.
Of course, it’s no secret that sci-fi and I don’t get along very well. As such, I’m probably guilty of losing focus and concentration while reading this. There’s an element of horror to this story, but regardless, Beachworld doesn’t sit well with me. It’s not something I’ll be going back to.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 5,900
The Wedding Gig is set in the years after the First World War, and is told from the point of view of a local ragtime band leader. He is hired by a small-time gangster to play at his sister’s wedding, at which he, (the gangster), is killed by some goons he has rubbed up the wrong way.
Sometimes, The Wedding Gig seems to just be an opportunity for King to poke fun at fat women – which is fine, I guess – but there needs to be more of a story than that, and ultimately, there really isn’t.
As such, this short story is the first one in the collection that I have to stop short of giving the green light to. There’s just not enough here to make it worth your time, and penty of other stuff that is better in the pages before you get to it.
Not Recommended ⇓
Word count – 11,400
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut hangs on the familiar King format of using a minor character to narrate the tale. King is particularly good at this, and he often manages to add a little spice into the story that otherwise would not be possible. This attempt is no different.
Mrs. Todd likes to drive, but more than that she likes to find the quickest route to wherever she is going. It’s fun listening to how she manages to shave miles off each of her journeys by taking different roads, and the fact that it doesn’t really go the way I had expected doesn’t matter.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut is a good tale, but unfortunately it’s not as well done as I had hoped. The premise is fun and interesting, but the execution is a little long-winded for my liking, and it nearly outstays its welcome. If some of the detail here was trimmed I think King may have had a story that stays with you more.
It took a long time, but I finally finished printing out all my stories in May. There are a few stragglers – a couple of drafts that for whatever reason I don’t have saved on my laptop, and anything I wrote before I was thirteen or so. But everything is there that should be…
…including all the mistakes I have made over the years. The poor grammar, the missing apostrophes, and my god the flowery language. If there was an opportunity for me to say something in three words you can be assured that I chose to say it in thirty.
The funny thing is that I distinctly remember thinking the more convoluted I could make a sentence, the better a writer I was. The density of the prose is what makes a story sing, right?
It took me a while to get out of that habit – years, probably. Sometimes I catch myself circling that literary drain again and I’m reminded of that teenage writer who thought there was nothing better than the flourish of his own pen.
I was going to take a few examples and slot them in here so you could see what I’m talking about, but once it’s out there online, I can’t take that shit back. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Now I just have to organise what I’ve written, and I can concentrate on the new stuff.
Word count – 1,900
Cain Rose Up is a very brief story about a school shooting, written in the late sixties – before school shootings, unfortunately, became far too commonplace in the real world. This would likely be a controversial story in these sensitive times, and King (who has mellowed somewhat in recent years) probably wouldn’t write this in 2020.
Curt is a troubled college student who decides to snipe his way out of his funk from his dorm room… and that’s all there is to it. As short as this piece is, I certainly can’t say that that it outstays its welcome.
Cain Rose Up is very brutal in its stripped-down nature. It doesn’t pull any punches, and it wouldn’t be any better if it did. You don’t get a happy ending here, and that is why it works.
Word count – 15,000
The Monkey is a fairly chunky short story about one of those old spooky looking mechanical monkeys with the cymbals, and how this particular one has a tendency to reappear in protagonist Hal’s life.
The Monkey is a basic horror story that has been stretched almost to the point where it is in danger of really losing me. I think King could have excised half of the words here and been left with a better story as a result.
Having said that, ultimately there is something worthwhile reading in here. I just wish that there was a little less fat in between all the good stuff. I’m just out of the blocks, but this the weakest entry I have read in Skeleton Crew thus far.
I finished an 1,800 word dark short story this month that I have titled The Cave. It took longer than it should have (this was one of the pieces I had challenged myself to write by Christmas 2019), but as it turned out, a few days of attention and concentration was all that it really needed.
I also started and completed three jigsaws during May, to add to the two others I did in April, which makes five furlough puzzles… probably more than I’ve done since I was a child. I know, it’s nerdy, but lockdown brings out the geek in all of us. The most surprising thing of all is that every one of those 4,500 pieces was right where they should have been.
Over the last week or so I have bought a shitload of paper, poly pockets, ink, and binders, so that I can finally finish printing and storing all of my writing since I started keeping (proper) records twenty-five years ago. It’s a very long process, but it will be worth it. It’s just another safeguard in case my laptop decides to go belly up… which is surely just around the corner.
I have finished Stephen King’s novel, Joyland. Very good, and yet another example (if one was needed) that the guy can write more than just monsters and spooky things that go bump in the night. To be honest, it’s been a while since he hung out in the darkness and tried to scare us. I’ve started a sci-fi novel by Gregory Benford called Cosm, which for one reason or another I have owned for the best part of two decades. It’s proving to be very hard going, but all I’ve got right now is time, right?
Guys – remember your social distancing…
Word count – 1,500
Here They Be Tygers is one of the earliest Stephen King stories that is available for the public at large – having been written when King was a teenager – and it’s also one of the shortest.
Charles is a child in class and he needs to go to the toilet. When he arrives at the bathroom, there is a tiger sitting on the foor. Because, of course there is.
There’s not much to this, but at this length that is expected. Here There Be Tygers is about one thing – one jolt – and it is laser focused on delivering that one thing. Maybe this was polished from it’s original state to how it appears in this collection – maybe not – but it’s easy to believe this was written by a teenage King.