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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen King’

A Ghost Story Near Christmas

Posted by Dirck on 7 December, 2018

After running out my own seasonal ghost story for the year, I thought I’d follow the theme at least for this week. Today’s film is more in the line of the traditional seasonal ghost story, which if I take anything from the works of M.R. James don’t usually have that much to do with the season.

The other point of interest is that it’s being told by Algernon Blackwood. I’m sure some will have said who? to that name, so I’ll explain briefly that he was famous for writing creepy stuff in the first half of the 20th century. No, that’s not quite right– through the first half of the 20th century. He began a little before radio for home entertainment became possible, and was in the public eye long enough to make stuff like the following for an entertainment-hungry post-WWII public.

He’s sort of like Stephen King in terms of career length and popularity, although I think he’s got a better delivery when he’s reading his own work (King probably has him beat in the rock guitar department).

Today’s pen: Waterman Executive
Today’s ink: Diamine Sargasso Sea


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A Glorious Defeat!

Posted by Dirck on 6 January, 2016

A little less than a year ago, I made a public admission here as a way of holding something over my own head– “Lookit me,” I said, “I’m taking up a year-long reading challenge!”

Let’s see how that went, shall we?



Hmm.  It seems that there are some unchecked boxes there.  How could I have let this happen?

Pretty easily, actually.  I didn’t so much let it happen as decide that it would happen.  I realized in August that even with the outrageous cheat of allowing one book to fill several requirements, I would have to work pretty hard to manage “Almost Finished”.  This realization led to a contemplation of the place of reading in my life, and the thinking ran something like this:

  1. Reading is enjoyable;
  2. Working hard under external compulsion is rarely enjoyable;
  3. A≠B;
  4. I’d be an idiot to bash A with hammers until it becomes B-shaped.

At that point, I didn’t give up on the list, but I stopped chasing it.  If something I wanted to read happened to fill a box, then that’s just fine, but I’m not going to squander my precious reading time on things chosen to please an arbitrary list rather than myself.  I’m also not going to put myself off reading by clinging stubbornly to that list, because a writer who’s sick of reading is a writer for not much longer, and I’ve hardly even begun.

An excellent example would be the truncation of my read of The Longer I’m Prime Minister.  A close look at some of the self-serving back-stabbery of our last PM (more than usually egregious, even in a politician), it had sat on my READ THIS shelf for a long time.  I could not summon the heart to open it while he held the nation in his grubby fist, and after the liberation election I discovered I couldn’t stomach having everything I’d thought of the man confirmed and even expanded upon by those in his inner circle.  It’s on the list, but I didn’t finish.  Similarly, I’ve been in the midst of reading Labyrinths for ages; it goes on the list not because I read it but because I am reading it– I have to take it in small doses, lest it overwhelm me with its power.

This year, then, I won’t be doing the same thing, and I’ll be a happier reader for it.  Last year’s effort, for all that the campaign’s objective was not taken, saw no one hurt and a good deal of ground was gained (I did, after all, read books).  If that’s not a triumphal failure, I don’t know what is!

For those who want more detail, I’m sticking a reading list at the bottom of this entry, with links to the Goodreads pages– I think it’s pretty good for someone who doesn’t get more than a non-contiguous half-hour of reading available to him on most days, and it leaves out the manifold repeats of Tintin and Thomas at bed time (although a couple of entries there were used to quell a wakeful lad).  Also, there’s that one criterium above which just has * beside it; a bunch of those books are set in England, a country I have been in only once, briefly and without depth of understanding, and I would very much like to visit it properly.  Before all the interesting bits get washed away by the rain that apparently has forgotten how to stop.


Today’s pen: Pelikan M600
Today’s ink: Herbin Vert Empire

♦    ♦    ♦

Barron, Laird. The Imago Sequence and Other Stories

Borges, Jorge Luis. Labyrinths: Selected Stories and Other Writings

Bryson, Bill. At Home: A Short History of Private Life

de Lint, Charles. The Mystery of Grace

Frye, Northrop. The Educated Imagination (which you should all read NOW)

Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows

Howell, Tom. The Rude Story of English

King, Stephen. Revival

Martin, Andrew. The Lost Luggage Porter
Death on a Branch Line

Ottaviani, Jim. Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards: Edward Drinker Cope, Othniel Charles Marsh, and the Gilded Age of Paleontology

Pratchett, Terry. Thief of Time

Rankine, John. Moon Odyssey

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Tamaki, Jillian. This One Summer

Tardi, Jacques. The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec: Pterror Over Paris / The Eiffel Tower Demon

Washington, Peter (ed.). Ghost Stories

Wells, Barry. The Day the Earth Caught Fire

Wells, Paul. The Longer I’m Prime Minister: Stephen Harper and Canada, 2006- (that’s not truncated; he was still in office at time of publication)

Willett, Edward. Marseguro

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Holding Forth: Writing Edition

Posted by Dirck on 27 November, 2014

With the end of NaNoWriMo coming up over the weekend, I thought it would be a great time to distract people by revealing my writing secrets which guarantee results.

…and also to screw slightly with silly Google search parameters.

Let’s start at the beginning; I started to look on writing as something I might engage in about the time Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King were beginning their bitter disagreement over the nature of The Shining.   The thought process was as follows: I have been good at making crap up for a long time, and I’ve always had a broad vocabulary.  I can stick sentences together pretty well.  I have read a lot of books, many of them inappropriate to my age (I didn’t get through Catch-22 until my third attempt; the first was around age 10).  Therefore, why not write?

And you know what I though, after trying it?  “Oh, heck.  This is pretty easy!”  Easy, that is, as long as my parents didn’t interrupt me with trivial like “this place needs cleaning up” and “are you done your homework?”  In fact, in the mid-1980s I wrote two novels… which I’ll get back to.

I break off here because a discovery I have made since.  Writing is an awful lot more work than I thought.  I was, as many people with the sort of facility I mention , labouring under the delusion that all I really needed was some time and quiet to tip words out of my head and onto the page– a delusion which I hasten to mention I still indulge when I lay down entries here (pondering and proofreading get occasional admission to this space).  However, as pointed out in this excellent article, having a predisposition towards something is not the same as mastery, whether one looks at writing, gymnastics, or astronautery.  Doing it well requires actual practice and actual effort.

Happily, I worked this out before I tried to submit in un-polished form either a very rambly novel about a werewolf killing far too many people in a small town (which had some way cool cars and guns built into the story) and a speculative fiction thing that was pretty much Day of the Jackal wearing a rainbow wig and Groucho glasses.

The best advice for writers I’ve yet to come across, though, is to not take the advice of others too seriously, because unlike gymnastics or rocket surgery, there’s a lot of approaches that yield success.  Some buggers can actually bang out a functional first draft of an intricate suspense novel by retiring to a quiet room for two weeks, emerging only for the necessary bodily functions and not worrying about researching anything until second draft.  Some people need half a year of research and planning before they dare start the actual writing of an airy slice of life romance.  Some swear by a hand-written first draft, some swear at it as a foolish antiquity (I was in the latter camp in my younger days, but have since joined the former).

The only other item of advice I’d try to offer is a well worn one– read a lot.  Read in a smart way, though.  One the thrill of a magnificent passage has passed along your spine, once the tears of joy or horror that the author has forced into your eyes have subsided, read it again with a clinical focus.  What are the levers in that sentence?  How is it that this paragraph did that thing that it just did to me?  This is something that my own beta-readers, one valuable one in particular, is always yelling at me about in reference to my own writing, and it’s damn good advice.  It’s also advice that can take you outside your favourite genre, in the same way a sensible marital artist will ponder the skills of people from different traditions.  Just because it’s not what you want to pursue doesn’t meant it doesn’t have some tricks to teach you.

As far as guaranteed success… hey, if I knew that, you’d have a copy of all my books filling up a shelf in your library, wouldn’t you?  I certainly subscribe to the sort of thing described in the video you’ll find down this link— success is the result of a confluence of working like mad to be good at what you want to do, and having the unspeakable luck to get noticed as being good at what you do.  Oh, also, once you get noticed, keep working like mad to stay good.  I think we can all name an artist of some stripe who has decided they’re good enough and stop trying; it’s sad, and it eventually makes the fans angry as the skills atrophy.

By the way, I’m not a fan of the concept of NaNoWriMo.  Apart from not having the time to devote to it, I think that it would suck the joy out of the exercise of writing for me to have to produce a certain amount of content each day.  I write as much as I’m able to in what little time I have to write on a daily basis, and I love it even when it’s clearly curdling on me (I’m looking at you, “And Then the Screaming Started”), but if I had an internal guy in a leather vest pounding on a pair of drums and occasionally shouting “Ramming speed!” it would turn into a chore.  Who wants to do chores?  I am pleased to find I’m not alone in this, either.

I do, however, think that getting some writing done at extremely regular intervals is a very good idea.  I somewhat credit several years of these little stream-of-consciousness efforts with finally putting my authorly trolley back on the rails.

Today’s pen: TWSBI Vac 700
Today’s ink: Pelikan Brillian Black



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Very Well Indeed

Posted by Dirck on 10 November, 2014

This does not describe me.  There is, frankly, something wrong with my thinking parts.  How else to explain the purchase of yet another Esterbrook desk well?

Esterbrook W407

It’s colossal! It’s stupendous! It’s… redundant.

Actually, there is something in the looks that appeals to me rather more than the simplicity of the late-model 444 I’ve had on the desk at The Regular Job for yonks now, something between an aircraft part and an Art Deco motorcycle fuel-tank.  It’s pretty darn cool.

But “cool” isn’t the same as “useful.”  So why, with the perfectly functional 444, did I pull this thing out of the river of Life as it was bobbing past?  The only viable reason I have is an effort to stifle a foolish phobia I have of this sort of well.  The one I’ve been using keeps the ink, sensibly, in the lowest part of the unit.  This one, and many others, keep the ink above the dispensing hole.  This makes me rather nervous, and I felt I should overcome this weakness.

Esterbrook W404op

It’s explained in this diagram. Supposedly.

Through practicing with water, I now accept that it works.  I even follow the physics of it; once the access of air to the reservoir is occluded by the pool in the bottom, the dropping of the fluid induces a partial vacuum inside, and the flow stops.  Not entirely unlike the flow of ink out of a fountain pen not happening unless writing is happening, in fact.  I’m not sure I quite believe in it yet, but I comprehend it.  Phobia damped, then, if not quite quelled.

Something I’m having a little more trouble with, now that I’ve been able to play with it for a little while, is working out how this ever got marketed for home use… which it did.  I absolutely get it as an industrial resource, since having Smithers out there filling the bank’s wells more than once a week takes him away from other mildly abusive duties, but for the normal person’s normal uses, it’s ridiculous.  The 444 was faintly ridiculous, with its 30 ml capacity.  When I’m in the absolute throes of writing, as has happened now and again over the course of the past year, I’ve managed to get through about one milliliter an hour.  That extremely productive hour produces something between 1,500 and 2,000 words, so a 444 offers the possibility of a smallish novel worth of writing.

This 407 holds seventy-five milliliters, only three pen-fillings less than a huge Diamine bottle carries.  If you’re transcribing The Shining, you’re set.  How many grocery lists and “Your Mom Called” notes does that run to?  Heck, even though I’m not a normal person putting the thing to a normal use, I question the wisdom of installing it on my desk.  I reloaded the old well about once every six months, and that was mainly down to evaporation.  This thing, with its ocean of ink, is very well.  Profoundly well.  More well than, perhaps, I can deal with.

…and then there’s the other problem with this thing.  The running of ink from reservoir to dispensary pool is governed by the depth of the pool, yes?  For the system to work properly, it needs to be resting on a firm, level surface.  Like the top of a desk.

Unlike the floor of an automobile, even one being driven conservatively over smooth streets.  Turns.  Accelerations.  Drive-way slopes.  The net result is of the 35 ml or so of ink I put into it yesterday, having drained both the 444 and the remainder of the huge Diamine bottle of Classic Red, now rests below the reservoir.  This is not an ink well that enjoys travel, and to be honest I feel the phobia starting to reassert itself.  I’m not sure I’m feeling altogether well….

Today’s pen: Parker 75
Today’s ink: Diamine Sherwood Green


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Wikkid Smaht

Posted by Dirck on 22 August, 2014

As one given to occasionally holding forth, I know how much fun it can be.  I am some great way off from doing so on the subject of writing, if indeed I ever get near the steps of that pulpit.  However, today’s Fraudulent Found Friday Film presents a chap who has earned the platform, and is pretty entertaining when he gets going.  A warning, though– it’s rather long, and the talk is a little salty.

Today’s pen (as glancingly referred to in 11/22/63): Waterman C/F
Today’s ink: Pelikan violet

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Caution: Contains Some Clown

Posted by Dirck on 17 January, 2014

Another two-for-one on today’s film presentation, which you can approach as a compare and contrast exercise.

First, from very long ago:

Then, from slightly less long ago:

So… why is the second one several orders of magnitude more terrifying than the first?  It is merely the commercialism?  The waning of innocence in the western world?  Pennywise finally finding a suitable avatar?  Discuss.

Today’s pen: Waterman Conquest
Today’s ink: Herbin Poussieré de Lune

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Mind Out

Posted by Dirck on 11 October, 2013

Today’s film is a bit outside my usual line of thing, as it’s both promotional for something current and slightly cruel.  The latter I can’t really excuse, Hallowe’en’s approach nothwithstanding.  The former I’ll deflate a little afterwards.

Now, fun aside, I ask in all seriousness whether a really quite good film (or, at least adequate and effective) calls out for a remake, especially after a miscarried sequel-like item and a completely unnecessary remake-for-TV?  That is a 93.8% rhetorical question, of course.

Today’s pen: Pelikan M30
Today’s ink: Herbin Bleu Myosotis

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A Free Market in Action…?…!?

Posted by Dirck on 23 May, 2013

I’m going to re-pose a question found in yesterday’s silliness, but with a rather different thrust.  First, though, some groundwork.

I’ve just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63, and in general I recommend it.  It’s miles better than Dreamcatcher, less sappy than Bag of Bones, and avoids the last minute bed-pooping of Under the Dome and Tales from a Buick 8 (although there’s a little bit there that will make you want to change the sheets just in case).  No Shining nor ‘Salem’s Lot, but a good read and a satisfying conclusion.  Since the blurb and dust jacket give this much away, I’ll mention that it involves time travel, since the setting is germane to my pondering.

The precise mechanism of the time travel and the goals behind it have the protagonist hanging out without a break from 1958 to 1963.  During this time, because he’s not a sociopath (not really a spoiler), he meets and befriends people of the time/place he’s in.  At one point, some of them give him a fountain pen as a gift.  There is also mention of buying refills for it later… in the book, but not in time.  I’ll digress to mention that I suspect Mr. King is throwing an anachronistic Waterman into the mix, since the few specifics of description he gives don’t really line up with a C/F or a less-likely C/C, which were the sum total of available Waterman cartridge pens in the US in the year of the gift (and I have a distributor’s catalogue to lean on for that statement).

What struck me, when I was done enjoying the afterglow of the rather good ending and the excellent overall narrative, and also done lamenting the small, possibly bed-soiling farty bit that separated them, was something that only a loonie of my particular stripe would conjure.  The chap buys Waterman cartridges in 1958, to put into the pen he’s given in 1962.  Leaving aside the paradoxes this suggests, and focusing entirely on the pen business, that’s not a problem.  There is, however, a side-issue which lurks behind it, very like the sort of scary monster King built his empire upon, but more benign and definitely inhabiting the real world.

All the major pen makers in North America, led by Waterman, adopted cartridge pens.  Waterman, which was busy expiring as a US company even as they did so, appear to have given over to them entirely.  Sheaffer and Parker also got around to that point, as did at some length the French successor to Waterman.  And yet, all of them persisted the production of ink in bottles, even unto the present day.  So it is of them that I thought the question I posed yesterday and refer to above: what’s in it for them?

This is a mostly rhetorical question, of course.  There’s a lot of other models and older pens still about in the world; I’ve put inks from the three suspects mentioned above into pens decades older then the ink itself, some of those pens made by companies no longer active.  Why not take, if already producing the fluid in great big lots, put a quantity of it in bottles and get some extra sales that way?

That’s not a line of thinking that I’m used to coming from modern corporations, though.  The whole point of the proprietary cartridges Sheaffer, Parker and the earlier incarnation of Waterman offered was to make people use only their inks.  Support for past platforms?  Owners of pens calling for the slender Cartridge II which Sheaffer offered will attest that this is not much of a concern.  There’s a vast amount of pushing of consumers into things by corporations these days (can you say that you wouldn’t be brought to reasonable satiety by a 45g bag of corn chips and a 300ml bottle of soft drink?  Were people marching in the streets, demanding 90g and 444ml, or was that the idea of the suppliers? Hmm?) and this reticence on the part of pen-makers surprises me.

Is it mere inertia?  Is there, in fact, so much call for ink from owners of other companies pens that pen companies which offer ink see it as a valuable line to pursue?  I honestly don’t know, and to some extent I don’t really want to dig around for the answers.  Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, and the churchmen of medieval Europe all agree; curiosity is a sin, the indulgence of which can lead to pretty brisk consequences.  I prefer a world in which bottled ink is at least as freely available as it currently is, and asking those in charge of the means of production about the current state of affairs might prompt them to alter it.

Forget I mentioned it, in fact….

Today’s pen: Long Life mystery pen (as a cure for yesterday’s terrible fixation)
Today’s ink: Herbin’s Lis de Thé

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Cognition Issues

Posted by Dirck on 29 November, 2011

For maintaining one’s peace of mind, I suggest avoiding this combination; read The Dead Zone, then have a day-long migraine.  This was a large part of my past weekend, so I speak from experience.

Of course, I don’t suspect for a moment that I’ve got incredible precognitive powers as a result of holding my hair in an effort to take its weight off my skull alternated with fruitless dry heaving.  That would, after all, be somewhat useful and interesting, and that’s the fantasy aspect of King’s writing coming into play.  However, I do somewhat harbour concerns about the state of my head-meat.

How I spent last Saturday night

Apart from an interesting contemplation of fate and inevitability, The Dead Zone also offers plenty of material for the hypochondriac.  If John Smith can get a big lethal tumour out of a couple of widely-dispersed bonks to the head, what must spending the better part of a day feeling like a visual effect from a ’50s science-fiction film be doing in there?

What brings this mere speculation to the forefront is the pile of stuff that I left the house without this morning.  I mentioned in conjunction with the celebration of the end of The Great Work that I might now attend to correspondence more closely.  Two letters and a travelling journal, all ready to go but for postage, were to have gone into the world today.  My powers of stumbling from the house without any given item are great, but they usually don’t extend to this sort of sequence:

  • Collect items for transport.
  • Carry to front door.
  • Put on door-side table while tying shoes.
  • Fail utterly to recollect items in either the mental or physical sense even as brushing them with an elbow on the way out the door.

The one ray of light in this grim scenario is another lapse.  That travelling journal is something that I’ve been neglecting since last Monday, which is bad, but as it was also well ahead of the intense migraine barrage, it is encouraging.  Perhaps I’ve been spared from an acute malignant growth, and what I’m experiencing is a mere effect of aging and parental stress.  On one of these points, I shall discourse somewhat tomorrow.

…assuming I remember.

Today’s hypochondriacal pen:  Muji Cylindrical Aluminum Pen
Today’s hysterical ink: Diamine Imperial Purple (which is not yet on the Inks page, so no link for the moment)

p.s. – I find I have previously visited the old meanings of hysteria and hypochondria; I can still remember the odd thing.

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Freedom of Choice

Posted by Dirck on 19 April, 2011

I was listening to an audiobook version of Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot this morning as I was getting ready for the run to The Regular Job, and I forced into a bit of a meditation on the choices available to consumers.  In the bit in question, the protagonist is offered a beer by his doomed girlfriend’s doomed father.  The positive response pleases the father, as had the protagonist declined he would have showed himself for a pot-headed hippie art-fart.

My contemplation began with, “Say, I’d have been in some trouble, there.”  Let me disclaim status as pot-head, hippie, or (within certain proscriptions) art-fart.  No, my trouble would arise because I would not present a simple yes/no response, but rather a question of my own– “What kind of beer do you have?’

The thrust is not to establish which brand name of otherwise indistinguishable ultra-pale nearly-pilsner-style industrial lager is applied to the bottle, but to establish the subspecies of beer. It is a lager or an ale?  Pilsner (a proper one), porter, stout, imperial stout, oatmeal stout, tropical stout, pale ale, india pale ale, bitter, special bitter, extra special bitter, wit, hefewit, helles, barley-wine, Belgian red, Belgian blond, English brown, Irish red, gueze, bock, double-bock, trappist, trappist quadrupel, or perhaps something from Budwiess?  Some of those I like, some I’m not much of a fan of… but I am excited to find myself living in a time when so many styles are available.  Were I standing in Maine, or any other part of North America except possibly New York City, of 1976, I would have said quite truthfully, “No, I find beer unappealing, much like thoroughly-watered skunk juice.”

…which brings me at last back to pens, because the lack of readily available choice to consumers is something that leaves me wondering what people would write with if they were aware that there was more to life than “ballpoint, roller, or felt?”  I’ll admit that there is somewhat more variation amongst ballpoints than between the various brands of industrial nearly-pilsners, but it pales into insignificant when one looks at the variation in a single model of fountain pen.

Today’s pen, for example, one would have in ten different points (five widths, all firm or flexible) and choose between an open or hooded “Taperite” point.  Even a modern pen, losing the option of flexibility, can be had in a lot of different points– the Lamy Safari, for example, has at least 14 possibilities (if one includes both colours) of which I only have five.  In a very early entry here, I also mentioned the fact that each model is different, either subtly or radically, from every other model, too.

I guess, since I should really wrap things up, the point is that those who aren’t looking at fountain pens are constraining themselves as thoroughly as those who stick to a single type of beverage.  If you don’t look around at the possibilities, how will you know if what you’ve got is actually the best choice?

Today’s pen: Waterman Crusader  (I didn’t mention the two different shapes of unhooded section, did I? Yet more diversity!)
Today’s ink: Diamine Rustic Brown

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