Category Archives: Stephen King

A Review of Six Scary Stories

king15large_360x540Six Scary Stories
Selected by Stephen King
Cemetery Dance
hardcover $24.95 (with custom slipcase $49.90)
paperback $14.95
ebook $4.99

I’d already bought but hadn’t had a chance to read the electronic version of this book when a review copy showed up in the mail.  Cool.  Now I can read the book in either format.  Then I did a very foolish thing.  I, um, well…I put the book on my desk.  Where it disappeared.

I found it when I was moving things from the desk to the new bookshelf.  I dove right in and finished it in two or three nights.  Which isn’t bad with all the time constraints I’ve got at the moment, but is pretty slow compared to my regular reading rate.  (To give you an idea of how tight things are at the moment, I finished the book over a week ago and am just now getting a few minutes to sit down and write.)

In case you just fell off a turnip truck awoke from a coma and don’t know the genesis of this little anthology, Stephen King was asked by his British publisher to select a story in a contest the publisher was running to promote The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.   The publisher would select the final shortlist of six (from what turned out to be over 800 entries).  King would make the final selection from those.  King writes in his introduction that he had hoped to find one good story among the finalists.  What he found were six stories of publishable quality.  Hence, the anthology we’re discussing.  Here’s a quick summary of the contents: Continue reading

The Shapes of Midnight by Joseph Payne Brennan

Shapes of MidnightThe Shapes of Midnight
Joseph Payne Brennan
Berkley, 1980
mass market paperback, $2.25, 176 p.
Introduction by Stephen King

Joseph Payne Brennan has sadly become one of the more neglected writers of fantasy and horror from the second half of the 20th Century.  Fortunately there are were copies of his work available at reasonable prices.  Which is why a couple of weeks ago, after I’d read about half the stories in this book, I bought them.  By reasonable prices, I mean in the $10-25 dollar range for used hardcovers.  (Brennan created an occult detective named Lucius Leffing; I managed to snag a signed collection of some of those stories.)

When I did a search on Advanced Book Exchange for The Shapes of Midnight, the cheapest copy I found (there were only 4 of them at the time) was nearly $60.  Ouch.  Continue reading

Two Items of Halloween Interest

I’m buried under a mountain of grading, so there won’t be any post on Robert E. Howard’s horror stories tonight.  Tomorrow doesn’t look too promising, but I’ll see what I can do.

HalloweenMagicMysMacabre-500I did, however, want to make you aware of a couple of items of seasonal interest.  First, I’m reading Paula Guran’s Halloween: Magic, Mystery, and the Macabre  from Prime Books.  The review is for Amazing Stories (TM) and will go live on Monday.  It’s the sixth installment of a series I’m been running over there I’m calling Six Weeks of Scares.  I’ll be sure and post the link here when the review goes live.  I’m about halfway through the book at the moment, it’s quite good.

ShiversVIIThe other item is one from Cemetery Dance.  It’s the latest installment in the Shivers anthology series edited by Richard Chizmar.  I received a copy of the ARC through Cemetery Dance’s ARC club earlier this year.  I’ve read a few of the stories, and the ones so far are top notch.  There are a couple of rare stories in this one.  One is “Weeds” by Stephen King, which hasn’t been reprinted since 1979.  The other is a story by Clive Barker that was originally published in the New York Times on October 30, 1992.  I haven’t read those yet.  I’d hoped to have this collection finished by Halloween, but I probably won’t make it.  I will review it early in November if things go as planned.  They rarely do, but I can dream.

A Visit to Duma Key

Duma KeyDuma Key
Stephen King
various formats

I started this novel back around the end of July or the beginning of August, I don’t remember which. I was wanting something I could sink my teeth in just for pleasure. I had (and still have, although the titles have changed) a fairly large stack of books for review. It was all starting to feel like work, and I was beginning to ask myself where the fun was in all of it. (This was during the same time period when I decided to make the move over from Blogger after Google decided I was a spam site.)

Stephen King has always been one of those writers that I connect with about 60=75% of the time. This one looked the most interesting of his titles I was considering. It concerned a single individual rather than a group of people. I ended up dipping into it off and on for a couple of months, hardly touching it after Worldcon until last week. The storyline was fairly straightforward, so it was one of those books you can pick up and put down, then come back to some time later without having to reread large portions to pick up the thread of the story.

The plot concerns a building contractor, Edgar Freemantle, who is injured in an accident at a construction site. He loses his right arm, along with suffering injuries to his head and right leg. In the process of trying to recover his health, he loses his marriage.

Searching for a place to heal, he rents a house on Duma Key off the Florida coast. There he discovers a latent ability to paint and draw. He also befriends an old woman, Elizabeth Eastlake, and her caregiver, Jerome Wireman.

It doesn’t take long for him to discover that his ability to paint can cause changes in the outside world. Elizabeth Eastlake also suffered a head injury as a child, and for a time she exhibited this same ability until she walked away from her art. The results for her weren’t exactly something a child would find comforting.

Now Freemantle thinks something has called him to Duma Key, something that wants him to finish what Elizabeth Eastlake started.

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. Duma Key isn’t a book you rush through in one or two sittings. Rather, it’s the kind of novel that you soak up and savor. Perhaps that was partly a function of my taking my time with it. Still, King brings Edgar Freemantle and Jerome Wireman to life. Elizabeth Eastlake is sinking deeper into senility, so we don’t get to know her as directly as we do the men. But she’s just as much a central character as Freemantle or Wireman.

There are secrets on Duma Key. Freemantle unpeels them just like an onion, much to his regret at times. King keeps them coming up to the very end.  Once or twice, he answered questions about the past that I only realized I’d been asking in hindsight.  There’s a heavy sense of tragedy hanging over the story, along with some creepy chills. This one has become one of my favorite King novels.  If you’re in the mood for a multilayered story, this is one you’ll want to consider.

A Visit to Joyland

Stephen King
Hard Case Crime
trade paper, 285 p., $12.95
no electronic edition

So on Friday night I took my family to Joyland, and we had a great time.  The weather was unseasonably cool albeit a bit muggy.

What?  No, really, we did.  That’s the name of our local amusement park.  Has nothing to do with the novel by Stephen King other than it helped with the mood.  I finished the book after we got home.

Anyway, the day the book came out, I stirred my stick and went and bought a copy.  At Wal-Mart.

For a Stephen King novel, it’s pretty short.  It’s also not really the sort of thing you usually expect from him.  For one thing, it’s not a horror story.  Oh, sure, there are hints of a ghost (well, more than hints, actually, but not much more than that), and at least one of the characters has the Sight, but for the most part it’s a coming of age story, with a murder mystery thrown in for spice.

 Set in a failing North Carolina amusement park during the summer and fall of 1973, it’s the story of Devin Jones, who takes a summer job at Joyland and gets a great deal more than he bargained for.  For one thing, a murder occurred in the fun house a few years previously.  Since then the place is rumored to be haunted.  Jones is trying to forget the girl who broke his heart, and no, he doesn’t fall in love with the ghost.

He does heal.  And he does stay on after the summer season ends.  Eventually he meets Annie and Mike, a single mother and her dying son.  And through them, he learns to live again.  At least he will if he can survive a chain of events he’s set in motion, in part by befriending them.

The book didn’t resonate with me the way “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” or The Green Mile did.  For one thing, the book starts off kind of slow.  Still, I quite enjoyed the story.  Most men can relate to the heartbroken  young man who narrates the novel from the perspective of late middle age.  And I’ve always been a sucker for carnival/circus stories, holding Something Wicked This Way Comes and Blind Voices up as masterpieces of the form.  There’s something appealing about working as a carny, although I wouldn’t want to try it at my stage of life.

There were moments of pure creepiness, but not many, and it seemed King didn’t milk them for all they were worth.  Not that I’m complaining; it wasn’t that kind of book.  I’ve not read a great deal of his work, more short fiction than novels.  But a number of the touches I’ve admired King for were there.  The foreshadowing that’s also misdirection.  The details that appear to be window dressing but turn out to be significant. 

Joyland probably won’t be considered one of King’s major works, but it’s a solid piece of storytelling.

An Open Letter to Stephen King

The Wall Street Journal published an article (link may expire) yesterday in which Stephen King announced that his next novel, Joyland from Hard Case Crime, won’t have an electronic edition.  As you can imagine, there’s been no end of comment on the web.  After reading some of the remarks, both supportive and not so supportive, I thought I’d put my two cents in, specifically where he said “…let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”

Dear Mr. King,

While I doubt you’ll ever read these words, or care very much if you did, I still would like to go on record responding to the comments you made recently regarding Joyland not having an electronic edition. 

I’ve read a number of your books over the years, and I’ve enjoyed most of them.  I particularly appreciate your publishing Joyland through Hard Case Crime as Hard Case is one of my favorite publishers.  Your association with them is sure to strengthen their sales, helping to insure they continue to publish more books.  And for the record, I’ve been intending to buy a print copy of Joyland, if for no other reason than I like they way the look on the shelf and have an almost complete set.

I’m not going to chastise you for holding onto the digital rights to your book.  More power to you for doing so.  I only wish all authors had that choice.  Nor do I wish to take you to task for taking control of your career.  I only wish more authors would.  Then maybe publishers wouldn’t try to slip so many draconian terms into their contracts.

Over what I do wish to take issue with you, sir, is the statement you made in which you said “…let people stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore rather than a digital one.”  I find that to be highly insulting.  The are multiple reasons why I feel this way.  Please allow me to explain. 

First, being able to buy books without having to go to a bookstore is a huge advantage to many, I would even say most, readers.  Many people can’t simply “stir their sticks and go to an actual bookstore” because there aren’t any within driving distance.  While there may be bookstores in every community on the coasts, I can assure you that is not the case in flyover country.  When I was in high school the nearest book store was over an hour’s drive away.  And I didn’t live in an isolated part of the country.  Furthermore, not everyone who lives near a bookstore is physically able to go.  A number of elderly and invalid persons have been able to enjoy reading through either electronic books or ordering books online who would otherwise not be able to buy new books.

And speaking of online bookstores, will Joyland be sold online through venues such as Amazon or Barnes and Noble?  We both know it will.  As well as in Wal-Mart, Costco, Target, and other large discount box stores.  If you wish to support bookstores, have you tried to keep your books from being sold there as well?  I realize you probably can’t prevent your titles from being sold in those venues.  But the big discounts those stores force on publishers have hurt authors and traditional bookstores.

The second, and more controversial, reason I take offense at your words, Mr. King, is that I’m beginning to question to what extent bookstores should be supported.  I love browsing, but the experience is becoming less and less enjoyable.  There are three stores in the city where I live that could be considered general interest bookstores that are not second-hand, religious, or university bookstores.  One is Barnes and Noble. The other two are Hastings, which is a chain based here in Texas. 

Hastings isn’t much of a bookstore.  Most of its sales are from music, movies, and video games.  The small portion of its floorspace devoted to books is a mix of new and used.  The selection is poor, and many of the bottom shelves are empty.  My experiences with what passes for customer service there have been so bad (to the point that I was treated as though I was a thief when my five year old son had to got to the bathroom, charging more than cover price for books, etc.) that I won’t spend my time or money there.

Barnes and Noble has been on a downward spiral since I moved to this city three and a half years ago.  The space devoted to books has continued to diminish to make room for toys, games, puzzles, Nook accessories, and assorted doodads.  The selection has diminished in quality and variety.  Last summer I went in looking for two new hardcover releases, one mystery and the other science fiction.  The computer said they were in stock, but they weren’t on the shelves.  I assumed the store had only ordered a single copy of each that had sold out.  Two weeks later I found out what was really going on.  Multiple copies of the books had been ordered.  They simply hadn’t been taken out of the boxes and were still in the stockroom after two weeks.  This is typical of the customer service I’m finding at every B&N I’ve visited in the last year.

Tell me, Mr. King, why should I support that business model when I can order just about any book from my home, in either electronic or print edition, with only a few clicks?  Why should I get out in the heat, put up with the traffic, endure a store full of unsupervised children whose parents have left them at the mall for the evening, and try to tune out the music blaring from the PA system only to find there’s next to nothing that interests me or that the recent release I’m looking for was never stocked? 

I love bookstores and very much want them to stay.  But the bookstores are going to need to rediscover who they’re truly in business for, the customer.  Not the sales reps.  Not the major publishing houses.  Not even the authors.  Bookstores which don’t have customers don’t stay in business.  You speak and people listen, Mr. King.  Rather than insulting your readers, next time please encourage the bookstores to be more reader oriented.

Thank you.