Erudite Frights for All Hallow’s Night: Ten Spine-Tingling Lines from Literature

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Here at eNotes, we would NEVER let Halloween pass without a few good scares from the masters of horror!  Let’s all take a break from the tedious terror of government shutdowns and 404 Errors of the new healthcare law and enjoy some scares that are a lot more fun.

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1.  “The shortest horror story:   The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door.”
― Frederic Brown

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2.  “At bottom, you see, we are not Homo sapiens as all. Our core is madness. The prime directive is murder. What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest, most murderous motherfuckers in the jungle. And that is what the Pulse exposed five days ago.” –   from Cell by Stephen King 

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What You Read Over Summer Vacation: Readers Respond to eNotes

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Remember, just a few months ago, when the summer seemed endless and our Loyal Blog Readers were asked what  books were going into beach bags and which were being chucked in the backseats of cars?  Some were novels recommended by a friend; others were purchased because of the rave reviews of trusted literary critics; still others were ones that had been Christmas gifts that we were finally going to have time to read.  Well, now those readers report back, with thumbs up or down or sideways about those earlier choices, and some that snuck in somehow…impulse buys or gifts.  Here’s what you had to say about your summer reading selections:  

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ZZZZzzzz: Ten Books We Couldn’t Finish

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My home is filled with books. Books on shelves, books overflowing shelves, books on my nightstand, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, on the floor. Most I manage to get through, if not always enjoy. I am a big believer in seeing it through.  Most of my friends feel the same way. AND YET… there are always a few that we just cannot seem to finish.  Some are classics that we know we should complete before the inevitable Rise of the Librarians comes to quiz us with tasers. Others are books friends raved about….or best sellers that have evoked a lot of fuss…for no reason YOU can discern.

Whatever the reason, here are confessions of my well-read friends and colleagues, many of them English professors, so I will have to give them Code Names so their students never find out their dark, dark, secrets.

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1.  Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Dense passage about the physiognomy of whales: the poor man’s Ambien.  We all know that this should be read. And many of us keep trying. It’s our own…. yeah, you guessed it… Moby Dick (Insert groaning here.)

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2.  The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

More Viggo Mortensen would have made this seemingly-endless series more interesting for me. Skipping the endless “songs” moves things right along though. Save yourself some time and listen to some Zep to catch up on everything you need to know about what you glossed over.

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3.  Paradisio by Dante Alighieri 

Another popular snooze-fest, this comment sums up our feelings in general:

 “I can’t finish Paradisio. The torments of The Inferno and even Purgatorio appeal to my sense of schadenfreude, but people in heaven and Beatrice? BO-RING.”

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4.  Anything by Stephen King 

I must say, in King’s defense, that his text On Writing  is one of my favorites. However, King, to me, and many others, is like the Costco of literature. Do you really need that giant box of paper towels? Or that giant stack of largely interchangeable plots and characters?

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The Daily Rituals of Ten of the World’s Most Creative People

Do you have a daily ritual when you write? I don’t know of a single writer who does not.  Maybe it’s summoning the Muse…everything must be just so if there is any hope of words appearing on paper.  Most of us are NOT like the writer, Muriel Spark who, Ann Lamott notes, “is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning — sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.”stephen_king_desk

No, most writers have certain things they are committed to doing every day: common milestones are a starting time, and ending time, and a number of words that must be met. Oh, and a reward at the end (or perhaps that’s just me…. but I doubt it). Here are ten creative people who know that while the result may appear effortless, the process is paramount.

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Fifteen Tips for Writers from Ernest Hemingway, Anne Lamott, and Stephen King

Of the many good things about being a writer… The pay! The fame! The constant attention…

If you believe any of that, you are not a writer.

But one of the GOOD things about writing, or really, any of the arts, is the sense of shared community. Writers want to tell other writers things that worked for them. There are, of course, hundreds of books of advice on writing.  But there is one thing I think all writers should remember.  This advice actually came from a book on parenting, but I feel it is just as applicable to writing:  Take the advice that makes sense to you and throw out all the rest.

Here are the three writers I turn to most often when I want to remember why Wall Street isn’t for me (aside from a complete inability to “math”):

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Ernest Hemingway

1.  If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. — Death in the Afternoon

2.  A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.

4.  I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.

5.  The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life and one is as good as the other.

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Anne Lamott― Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

1.  “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

2.  “I heard a preacher say recently that hope is a revolutionary patience; let me add that so is being a writer. Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

3.  “Because this business of becoming conscious, of being a writer, is ultimately about asking yourself, How alive am I willing to be?”

4.  “Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique. Don’t be afraid of your material or your past. Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you. Be afraid of not getting your writing done.”

5.  “I don’t know where to start,” one [writing student] will wail. / Start with your childhood, I tell them. Plug your nose and jump in, and write down all your memories as truthfully as you can. Flannery O’ Connor said that anyone who has survived childhood has enough material to write for the rest of his or her life. Maybe your childhood was grim and horrible, but grim and horrible is okay if it is well done. Don’t worry about doing it well yet, though. Just get it down.”

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Stephen King On Writing

1.  “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

2.  “If you expect to succeed as a writer, rudeness should be the second-to-least of your concerns. The least of all should be polite society and what it expects. If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered, anyway.”

3.  “Let’s get one thing clear right now, shall we? There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers; good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

4.  “I like to get ten pages a day, which amounts to 2,000 words. That’s 180,000 words over a three-month span, a goodish length for a book — something in which the reader can get happily lost, if the tale is done well and stays fresh.”

5.  “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”


Writer’s Spaces, Places, and Advice About Writing

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“It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”  ~ Stephen King, On Writing

Pictured above is Stephen King’s own attic writing space at his home in Bangor, Maine.  In contrast to his statement above, his desk does appear to be in the middle of his room, but surely he means “corner” to be taken metaphorically; that is, any place that is quiet, that is yours; the place where you sit to write your work.  While there are some writers who purportedly can write in the midst of chaos, most of us require a place of retreat. I believe it was J.K. Rowling who said that she cleared out a walk-in closet, put a desk and a lamp in there, and sealed herself off from the rest of the family while she was composing her first Harry Potter novel.

Here are ten intriguing places where writer’s write, along with some advice for all who write:

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1.  Neil Gaiman‘s Gazebo/Cabin

8 Good Writing Practices

  1. Write.
  2. Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down.
  3. Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it.
  4. Put it aside. Read it pretending you’ve never read it before. Show it to friends whose opinion you respect and who like the kind of thing that this is.
  5. Remember: when people tell you somethings wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
  6. Fix it. Remember that, sooner or later, before it ever reaches perfection, you will have to let it go and move on and start to write the next thing. Perfection is like chasing the horizon. Keep moving.
  7. Laugh at your own jokes.
  8. The main rule of writing is that if you do it with enough assurance and confidence, you’re allowed to do whatever you like. (That may be a rule for life as well as for writing. But its definitely true for writing.) So write your story as it needs to be written. Write it honestly, and tell it as best you can. I’m not sure that there are any other rules. Not ones that matter.

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2.  Edith Wharton‘s view from “The Mount” in Lennox, Massachusetts

“Habit is necessary; it is the habit of having habits, of turning a trail into a rut, that must be incessantly fought against if one is to remain alive.”

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3. Dylan Thomas‘s Boathouse at Laugharne, Wales

“Go on thinking that you don’t need to be read and you’ll find that it may become quite true: no one will feel the need to read it because it is written for yourself alone; and the public won’t feel any impulse to gate crash such a private party.”

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4.  Ernest Hemingway‘s Home in Key West, Florida

“Writing is something that you can never do as well as it can be done. It is a perpetual challenge and it is more difficult than anything else that I have ever done.”

“There’s no rule on how it is to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it is like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges.”

“Ordinarily I never read anything before I write in the morning to try and bite on the old nail with no help, no influence and no one giving you a wonderful example or sitting looking over your shoulder.”

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5. Rudyard Kipling: Dummerston, Vermont

“I am, by calling, a dealer in words; and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”

“I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn’t explain away afterwards.”

“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

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6. Ian Fleming‘s home, GoldenEye, in Jamaica

“All the greatest men are maniacs. They are possessed by a mania which drives them forward towards their goal. The great scientists, the philosophers, the religious leaders – all maniacs. What else but a blind singleness of purpose could have given focus to their genius, would have kept them in the groove of purpose. Mania … is as priceless as genius.”

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7.  Norman Mailer‘s Fourth Floor Apartment, Brooklyn Heights, New York

“I’ve written at times about the spooky element in writing. You go in each morning, and there’s a blank page. Maybe it takes five minutes, maybe it takes an hour. Sooner or later you start writing, and then the words begin to flow. Where does that come from? You can’t pinpoint it. You always wonder, “Will it all stop tomorrow?” In that sense it’s spooky. In other words, you’re relying on a phenomenon that’s not necessarily dependable. ” (“Norman Mailer Interview,” The Academy of Achievement, June 12, 2004)

“Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below: I will be there to write.”

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8.  Virginia Woolf‘s Writing Desk at “Monk’s House,” Sussex, England

“Mental fight means thinking against the current, not with it. It is our business to puncture gas bags and discover the seeds of truth.”

“To write weekly, to write daily, to write shortly, to write for busy people catching trains in the morning or for tired people coming home in the evening, is a heartbreaking task for men who know good writing from bad. They do it, but instinctively draw out of harm’s way anything precious that might be damaged by contact with the public, or anything sharp that might irritate its skin.”

“Arrange whatever pieces come your way.”

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9. John Steinbeck‘s Summer Home in Sag Harbor, Maine

“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true. “

“Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen. “

“The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.”

“In utter loneliness a writer tries to explain the inexplicable. “

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10.  Roald Dahl‘s “The Gipsy House,” Buckinghamshire, England

Dahl’s Advice on Writing

1.  You should have a lively imagination

2. You should be able to write well.  By that I mean you should be able to make a scene come alive in the reader’s mind.  Not everybody has this ability.  It is a gift, and you either have it or you don’t.

3.  You must have stamina.  In other words, you must be able to stick to what you are doing and never give up, for hour after hour, day after day, week after week, and month after month.

4.  You must be a perfectionist.  That means you must never be satisfied with what you have written until you have rewritten it again and again, making it as good as you possibly can.

5.  You must have strong self-discipline.  You are working alone.  No one is employing you.  No one is around to fire you if you don’t turn up for work, or to tick you off is you start slacking.

6.  It helps a lot if you have a keen sense of humor.  This is not essential when writing for grown-ups, but for children, it’s vital.

7.  You must have a degree of humility.  The writer who thinks that his work is marvelous is heading for trouble.


Top Ten Self-Deprecating Quotes from Authors

The literary world is a pretentious place, right? You wouldn’t think so judging by these ten quotes from authors playfully poking fun at their success. Who knew the Paris Review was such a popular venue in which to be self-deprecating?

Know of any others? Tell us in a comment below.

1. Vladimir Nabokov

Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name.” — in The Paris Review, 1967

2. Mark Twain

“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.” – The Innocents Abroad

3. Ray Bradbury

“A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.” — in The Paris Review, 2010

4. Kurt Vonnegut

Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit now that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do… I had suffered, all right — but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.” — in The Paris Review, 1977

5. Stephen King

“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries.”

6. David Sedaris

“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — Me Talk Pretty One Day

7. Jonathan Lethem

“Listen, you can’t imagine what a freak I was. I worked in used bookstores as a teenager. I grew up with hippie parents. I lived in a ten-year cultural lag. At all times. I had not the faintest idea what was contemporary. When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler. The world I’d dwelled in was now apocryphal. No one read Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, the Beats were regarded with embarrassment. When all that was swept away, I stopped knowing what contemporary literature was. I didn’t replace it; I just stopped knowing.” — in The Paris Review, 2003

8. John Grisham

“I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.”

9. Dorothy Parker

“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament… I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.” — in The Paris Review, 1956

10. And the self-deprecating author who took it to the highest extreme? That’d have to be Gary Shteyngart, who created a five minute parody of himself to promote his book Super Sad True Love Story:

“He really wants to cash in on this whole Hollywood vampire thing, but with werewolves… But they’re not wolves, they’re bears. Werebears.”

Images and quotes courtesy of Flavorwire.


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