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.
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.
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?
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.
All right, let’s get this out of the way up front: The Mist is not a short story. In fact, it strays into novel length, albeit a thin one with a singular thread. But I have included it here because it is the first story in Skeleton Crew.
A dense and strange mist creeps towards a small town and strands a group of people in a supermarket, after which it soon becomes clear that there are creatures in the gloom waiting to strike. For a long time we don’t know why they are there, but towards the end of the story King does throw us a bone. It’s a satisfactory reason, even if it is not really required to enjoy what’s here.
The Mist is a wholly enjoyable tale, and a good ol’ proper horror story from King as well. It’s a very good start for this second collection of stories, and a high bar is set early.
April zipped by, and the only creative writing I have to show for it is carrying on with one of those challenge stories I had intended to finish for Christmas last year. It’s nearly there, and I can probably cross the finish line in a few days.
What I have done though is spent more time staring at a jigsaw than at any other time in my life. It’s relaxing and takes my mind off all the other shit that’s going on in the world… I just wish there wasn’t so much damn sky in every one I do!
I’ve also written a hell of a lot of quizzes for the house. For a while I was presenting one a day, and finding out a lot of things that I thought were common sense were really not all that common at all. Bats are mammals, guys. That’s stuff they teach you when you’re six.
I’m back into my reading as well, which is nice. I am currently in the midst of two books – the Jimmy Connors autobiography called The Outsider, and the Stephen King novel, Joyland. Both are very good for quite different reasons, and they are reminders that I should have been doing more of it these last few months.
Night Shift is the first collection of stories that Stephen King published, way back in 1978, and after reading it over the last six months I come away quite happy with the content. There are no blow-you-away fantastic stories here – although several are very good – but more importantly, there are none that really shit the bed either.
I recommended sixteen of the twenty short stories in Night Shift, and of the four that I gave a red arrow to, the only one I really struggled to get through was the first story in the collection – Jerusalem’s Lot. Others may get into this one more, but I just couldn’t stomach the language for the length of time King asked me to do so.
Although I recommended 80% of these stories, they are not all of the same high quality. The Last Rung on the Ladder is hands down the best story here – simple in execution, with a haunting and perfectly played pay-off. Just below it on the totem pole are Battleground and the serial killer tale, Strawberry Spring. Just below those I’d put vertigo-inducing The Ledge and The Man Who Loved Flowers. They are the five stories here that I would recommend to any fan of Stephen King.
Night Shift is a good collection, and crucially, most of the best stories in this anthology – with the exception of Battleground – are not in any way supernatural or out-of-this-world, whereas the stories I liked the least were not grounded in reality at all. Subjective, sure… but it is worth mentioning.
The Woman in the Room is a dramatic tale about a man dealing with his bed-ridden mother who is dying of cancer, and his struggles over whether or not euthanasia is his only option.
Back in the late seventies this was likely a much more controversial narrative thread than it is these days – not that readers are blasé about euthanasia in fiction, although to some degree that is probably true – but this story simply lacks the punch that I think it once did.
The Woman in the Room is the last story in Night Shift, and unfortunately it is probably not the final kick to the gut you are looking for or expecting from King. It’s a perfectly serviceable tale, just not a particulary memorable one.
Unfortunately my short story More of a Wednesday Girl didn’t place in that contest that I was waiting for at the end of February, but I’m all right with that. It was nice to be shortlisted, seeing as it has been so long since I’ve even been that close to success. And more chances will come my way, I just need the right story and the right judge looking at it.
Obviously, the coronavirus has been all-encompassing this month, and rightly so, but the downtime at home has given me (and will hopefully continue to give me) the opportunity to catch up with some writing.
I finished a short piece called Paid in Full, in Plastic, which was a lot of fun and turned out quite well. It’s the fifth tale I’ve completed in 2020 and the 100th short story (upwards of 1,000 words) I’ve done since I started keeping detailed records of my writing exploits in 1995 – some of which are even pretty good!
It’s nice to hit a milestone like that, and I just hope that the inspiration can continue in these strange and uncertain times.