The Dark Tower — Great Film, Great Introduction

I posted the following review over on Facebook after finally seeing The Dark Tower today. If you don’t want spoilers, put down your computer, go to the film and then come back and read what I’ve written below.

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The Dark Tower is a great film. Five stars, easy.

It’s a great film for people who never visited the Tower before through the door provided in Stephen King’s books and it’s a great film for those fans who remember the face of their father.

I’m going to quote Robin Furth here. She was King’s research assistant and is the author of the two volumes of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower: A Concordance.

“Ka is a wheel; its one purpose is to turn. The spin of ka always brings us back to the same place, to face and reface our mistakes and defeats until we can learn from them. When we learn from the past, the wheel continues to move forward, towards growth and evolution. When we don’t, the wheel spins backward, and we are given another chance. If once more we squander the opportunity, the wheel continues its rotation towards devolution, or destruction.”

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Ok, that should provide enough space for spoilers without cutting down lots of white space as if white space was a forest of trees and we still believed we had an endless supply available to make paper.

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So … The Dark Tower is a great film.

How, you might ask, when there are lots of negative reviews, can I come away pleased with 88 minutes of a story that spans eight novels (as of now), as well as numerous references in other novels and short stories?

How, you might ask, can you accept a story that focuses on Jake Chambers rather than Roland? A story that doesn’t start with Roland walking the Mohaine desert in pursuit of Walter O’Dim, aka The Man in Black?

The answer is simple. As noted above, ka is a wheel and if we are sane people we want Roland to succeed in his quest to reach the Dark Tower. Which means we need Roland to change with each spin of the wheel. His quest is akin to Bill Murray’s in Groundhog’s Day; he’s got to get everything right if he wants to move forward. Otherwise we have to face and reface our mistakes, as Ms. Furth eloquently explains. We not only need him to have his horn, but we need him to make the right choices as he continues on his journey.

There was a lot of “gun-fu” and it was cool to watch, I saw Roland’s character change over the film’s short course. And how it ended indicates the Tower still stands, but still needs protecting. While it would have impressed me more if Roland was a bit less wasteful with him ammunition early on in the film, but you see that taper off toward the end. There is change, there is growth, there is a “refinement” of aim — and yet I expected Roland to repeat some of his mistakes during his battle with Walter.

Because I expected him to win by shooting Jake through the door, killing Jake before he could topple the Tower. You see, gunslinger’s don’t kill with their guns, they kill with their hearts — and sometimes hearts break, 

King broke our hearts by the end of our journey to the Tower, because we were part of Roland’s ka-tet by the end. We were gunslingers as much as Jake, Eddie, and Susannah.

But when King introduced us to Roland with the short stories that comprise the first book, The Gunslinger. Published in Fantasy and Science Fiction over the course of several years, they show us the first leg of Roland’s quest, and I think it’s safe to say that Roland is not a likable fellow in those stories. Jake is likable, however, and part of what makes Roland hard and possibly more an anti-hero than hero in those early stories is how he damns himself with his treatment of Jake. We see a little bit of it in the film, but the story and Roland’s character arc take care of that. We’re supposed to come away from the film wanting more. And I believe the filmmakers achieved that specifically because they made Jake open the story for us here.

Dropping moviegoers in the middle of the Mohaine desert with a character who is as taciturn as Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name, a character who decimated a town, and then killed an innocent boy to further his quest … I don’t think that would work. Dropping them into a somewhat familiar setting with Jake questioning the world around him and his own sanity … that lets you ground the story. We don’t start the journey to Erebor or Mordor in the Misty Mountains. We start the journey in the Shire. Someplace normal, someplace safe.

Now, while what I’ve said above may spoil the film for some people, since I’ve given away some plot details, let me assure you that, whether you’re a King fan or not, whether you’re familiar with the Dark Tower or not, you’re still going to be able to enjoy the film, precisely because it’s an introduction. Even though we end up at the Dixie Pig by the film’s end, there are other worlds than these, and we’re barely out of the Shire as far as I can tell.

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Planning For Success

Planning.

It’s all about planning. I don’t know why I struggle with this concept. I’m where I am today precisely because I planned certain aspects of my life about 33 years ago. It doesn’t matter which ones (since they’re personal and I’ve mentioned them in some detail in the past). What matters is that I know, and I’ve got to wonder if I’m insane for not doing the right thing for some many years.

I considered running a poll, asking my friends to select a number between 1 and 3, evading the decision I’ve got to make before my vacation ends. I was going to say abrogate rather than evade there, but that’s me avoiding clarity again, and what I need to do is clear my head.

I’ve worked on exercise as a component, and I’ve 18 days into a series of calisthenics that give me an endorphin high, but I push those off until the evening when I should knock them out first thing in the morning so I can jump-start my little grey cells.

So, the first order of business, first thing tomorrow, is Day 19’s squats, push-ups, and crunches. Second order of business is a shower and shave (a hot steam invigorates my muse for some reason). Third, brew some Red Rose tea. Fourth, sit down and work on the short story I need to write for Fantasy & Science Fiction.

The first three are the stool legs on which the fourth rests. They’re the plan, and the fourth … well, I’ll end up with a finished product following this regimen, so I’ll consider the result a success.

Besides, Thursday was the first day of the week at my old job, my sham-Monday, and what better day to start something new than on a Monday?

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Heading To The Dark Tower

The first screen adaptation of Stephen King’s Dark Tower debuts next week, and it doesn’t stretch the truth to say I’ve waited a long time for this moment, as I’ve been reading King since he first came onto the scene with the publication of Carrie. I’ve noted before that Salem’s Lot was one of the first I came across, as well as one of the first adult/horror novels I read.

With the new version of IT coming out in early September, I recently cracked that doorstop novel open again, and it put me in the mood to try my hand at another journey to the Tower. And since so many of King’s stories radiate from the Tower, the next question to address is a reading order.

Here’s my attempt at a comprehensive list, which includes shorter works:

IT
Cell
“Night Surf” (Night Shift)
The Stand
The Eyes of the Dragon
The Gunslinger
The Drawing of the Three
The Dead Zone
Rose Madder
The Talisman
“N” (Just After Sunset)
Pet Sematary
The Wastelands
Lisey’s Story
Wizard and Glass
“Jerusalem’s Lot” (Night Shift)
Salem’s Lot
“One for the Road” (Night Shift)
Desperation
The Regulators
The Wind Through The Keyhole
11/22/63
Needful Things
Wolves of the Calla
“The Little Sisters of Eluria” (Everything’s Eventual)
“The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet” (Skeleton Crew)
Hearts In Atlantis
“UR” (The Bazaar of Bad Dreams)
“Everything’s Eventual” (Everything’s Eventual)
From A Buick 8
Carrie
The Shining
Doctor Sleep
Dreamcatcher
Storm of the Century
Rose Red
Bag of Bones
Cujo
“Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” (Different Seasons)
“The Mist” (Skeleton Crew)
Song of Susannah
Insomnia
Black House
The Dark Tower

Rather than just listing the eight novels (inserting the later novel TWTTK between TW and WOTC), I’ve added prequels that touch on the concept of a greater universe/multi-verse, and then took a tour through King’s fictional Maine after the first two books to set up locations and concepts (such as circles with “N”) before tackling the books that comprise the main sequence of King’s larger tale. There is a return to the aforementioned Lot and a visit with the original “breaker” Carrie White in this list.

I welcome tweaks and additions. Some I’ve already discounted, even though they’re listed on the Connections page of Stephen King’s Dark Tower site, such as Bag of Bones, “Autopsy Room Four,” and The Plant, as their relationship are so tenuous that you wouldn’t miss anything if you skipped them on your trip.

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7-31-17
I’ve made some changes to the order, placing “One for the Road” after Salem’s Lot,, and I removed “The Road Virus Heads North” as it’s tie seems more tenuous than I first thought.

I also moved Cell to right after IT for two reasons. The premise for Clayton Riddell’s Dark Wanderer pays homage to Roland’s quest and the apocalypse depicted within Cell’s pages is “smaller” than the one readers will encounter in The Stand, and so its Pulse is more an apértif to the longer, epic encounter found in the world decimated by Captain Trips.

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Resumption: Endings and Beginnings (2)

As part of my new journey, I’m resumed the “century push-up challenge” started by Kate Bachus at the beginning of 2017.

That involved doing 100 push-ups over the course of 100 days, adding one push-up to the total done each time. Day 1 saw you doing one push-up; Day 2, two push-ups, and so on. After we finished, some people kept up, and added other calisthenics. Squats was the first additional exercise suggested, and I was one of those “people” — doing 100 push-ups and then working my way through more and more squats, one and two and three at a time — until I let life intervene, as I’m not as disciplined as some people. Not as much as I should be disciplined, that wasn’t how I was raised, don’t you know; if there’s one thing you can say about a Catholic education and middle class roots, it instills the importance of a good work ethic. And that either takes or doesn’t. You either get with the program or you rebel against it, with “getting with it” and “rebellion” as individual as there are people; we’re not drones, all cut from the same mold.

So I’m back to the beginning, and it’s now Day 8, with eight push-ups, eight squats, and eight crunches knocked out before the day ends.

But that isn’t the end, not this time. My writing fell off following my stroke, and I’ve tried starting three novels and three short stories. I finished only one of the latter. That’s nowhere near the production I need. Time keeps passing, and I’ve stories to tell, and they won’t get out into the world if I don’t buckle down and apply myself. I’ve already wasted too much time since the first story I completed way back in 1998. Twenty years are a long time to sit idle, especially I know writing is a craft, and you only get better at it if you exercise. Just as you only get fit and stay fit by pushing yourself each and every day, turning the living of life into a habit.

I recently finished reading Stephen King’s IT again. I picked up the new premium mass market when I came out a few months back. The new movie version comes out next month, and I wanted to revisit the story again in time for the film. Afterward, I noted how the story touched on some aspects of King’s magnum opus The Dark Tower (which also has a film adaptation coming out in a short while), and I’ve considered revisiting those stories again. I knew I wouldn’t finish before the film hits the local cinemas, as eight novels comprise the main sequence, and many more King stories and novels radiate from the Tower in some manner. But contemplating this challenge, which is as daunting as 100 push-ups, squats, crunches, impressed upon me how much King accomplished since he started. He’s a man who never sits idle and lets life pass. Heck, even after his car accident, he penned a novel longhand to accommodate the physical restrictions his recovery presented to keep him away from his desk.

Look at the list of main Dark Tower books:

The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three, The Wastelands, Wizard and Glass, The Wind Through The Keyhole, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, The Dark Tower.

That’s eight books, written between 1982 and 2012, and that’s just those directly focused on Roland of Gilead. Eight in 30 years. Since Carrie came out in 1974, he’s produced nearly 70 novels and short story collections. Seventy-some in a little more than 42 years.

I’ve completed two novels and 17 short stories in twenty years. A molehill by comparison. I’m going to need to change something if I’m going to make my own mountain. While I doubt I’ll catch King, I should try to keep up with my peers.

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Resumption: Endings and Beginnings (1)

The last three years has seen a lot of changes in my life.

I had a stroke in early July 2014 that saw a variety of side effects that range from decreased tactile sensitivity on the left side of my body to difficulty writing. Six months later I lost a job I’d held for more than 22 years. I’d apparently outlived my usefulness for what I was paid, and if my job was filled again — which it wasn’t as far as I know — someone younger and cheaper could handle the duties.

I landed on my feet to some extent. I had a new job within two months, working as a salesperson with Art Van in Ann Arbor. Not the best paying job, but one with the possibility of a decent income, albeit one based on commissions. Our family made ends meet, though we had to dip into our retirement savings quite a bit to make up for the shortfall between my old income and my new one. I am grateful to Art Van, for taking a chance on someone with minimal to no sales experience, but lots of experience working with people (the aforementioned 22-plus years in the old job). I’ve met lots of great people, both coworkers and customers, and my life is richer for the experience.

But now it’s time for a change again, and I’m diving back into the tech support field in August, taking a job with Thomson Reuters here in Ann Arbor. I’ve two days left at the Art Van in Ann Arbor, with my last day being on Thursday as the store kicks off its late summer tent sale. I won’t get my farmer’s tan this summer as I’ve done in the past, working outside in 90° heat, but I’ll take being indoor pale and cool when that’s balanced against being hot and sweaty with no guarantee of success.

That latter point is one thing that motivated my decision to move on from Art Van. At least when you’re writing a story or novel, and an editor rejects it, you’re left with a finished product that has some value. You might find another editor who wants the story, and you’ve certainly learned something during its creation. You should learn how to interact with another guest from each encounter as well; sales is a craft as much as any other, and I’m certainly a better salesperson than when I hit the floor back in April 2015, but when you don’t make a sale, you’ve actually “paid” for that interaction with a guest, precisely because you’re working on commission, and the draw you’re taking each hour for the opportunity to work the sales floor is only recouped if you sold enough.

If I’ve learned anything, I hope it’s how to be more considerate of others. I’m hopeful that will help me as I move forward in my new position. That’s my plan.

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Venting, 10-26

I’m going to try something new here, specifically so I don’t keep negative thoughts in my head and also so I don’t unnecessarily present them within my writing (which I tackled again today) as the opinions and viewpoints of my characters. The first lets me chuck any negative thinking, which I need to do to keep on an even keel in this new stage of my life (post-layoff and post-stroke), while the second lets me make sure a character is unique in their own way rather than possibly being a poor reflection of my current “reality.”

So … venting, and today’s observational complaint relates to how people generally live within bubbles nowadays.

One guy sits in his car in the Kroger parking lot, focused on his phone, and doesn’t see me pull into the spot behind him. He doesn’t see me get out of my car, but does open his door just as I try to walk past so that I have to backtrack. He does shoot me a dirty look, because I’m an inconvenience to him now — because he’s dropped his phone into his car’s footwell, and I’m an inconvenience because he doesn’t have enough room at the back of his vehicle to stand comfortably and open his trunk to get out a jacket since it’s raining.

Another guy inside the store shoots me another dirty look as I wash and dry my hands after using the bathroom — apparently because he isn’t washing and drying his hands, and my action calls his decision into question, and people don’t like their choices called into question, don’t like being wrong as everyone (even villains) are the heroes of their own lives.

And don’t get me started about the other drivers on the road. The ones stopping at a green light before turning right, when the traffic going straight is already moving through the intersection and there isn’t any clear reason to pause. Then, after making the turn, driving at 10 mph below the speed limit, and stopping a good 15 feet back from the coming left-hand turn so that when the oncoming traffic moves past they have to still roll forward that distance before they can turn left instead of just turning left. This latter one almost always seems to happen where Liberty and Scio Ridge meet by the Liberty Sports Complex when there’s a car getting ready to turn left onto Liberty. It doesn’t happen every time, hence the use of “almost” in my description, but it does occur 95 times out of 100. I’m exaggerating for effect here. I don’t tally these types of situations; I vent, usually with an occasional tap to my car horn, a muttered profanity, or the ASL sign for “no nothing” (which I originally thought was the sign for a**hole until recently).

That all being said, I feel better now. I’ve cleared my head, and I’m going to put some words down on paper. I’ve struggled with that for a while now, blaming my new job and the odd retail hours I keep and my stroke from several years back (“my brain is different, so I’ve lost my mojo”) when the truth is anyone is capable of doing something if they set their mind to it. The new sales manager at work said something to me on Monday, explaining how to approach a guest and learn their objections to a purchase by asking them what was holding them back. It’s not a yes-no question, as those kinds of queries shut down a conversation rather than beginning one.

Which allowed me to ask myself what was holding me back. Answering that is something I hope you’ll find interesting, as I’ve wasted too much time over the last 20 years.

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New Reprint

Digital Fiction Publishing has put out a Kindle edition of “Ye Shall Eat in  Haste” as part of its digital fiction horror shorts.

If you’d like to see the story that sets the stage for my novel, Only The Dead — which I’ve recently rewritten — follow this link to pick up a copy.

The story garnered an honorable mention in Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 1, edited by Ellen Datlow, after its original appearance in Black Static #4 back in 2008, so I’m happy to see it available again for people to enjoy.

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