“The Poet, The Author, The Narrator, Stephen King, and Me” (Fiction, 12/17/06) Doc. #019

Tower

The Text:

The Poet, The Author, The Narrator, Stephen King, and Me

Written December 17, 2006 (Age 20)

Sitting on an awkward, supposedly orthopedic chair, is the protagonist of this quick little story. His name is John Chambers, and his name is almost copy written. He is thinking about brand names and staring at his computer screen.

His room is messy and rarely silent. His computer, now well past obsolete, hums loudly, trying to keep up with the programs and viruses John is constantly running and unfortunately unaware of. The files he has accumulated, the texts he has produced, will be lost to the magnets soon, unless he is quick enough to think of printing them out and making them harder. The Intel Celeron® D processor has been heating up inside the blissfully generic emachines computer, but Windows® XP seems as chipper as ever and John does not really understand computers.

I, on the other hand, do. That computer is going to die.

John, on the other hand, is going nowhere, or so it seems. He is staring at a blank word-processor page. His mind has wandered down to the Starbucks® up the block. He is thinking about coffee and coffee beans and coffee farmers. He is considering the ramifications of getting up from the strange computer chair and walking down to the Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. Somewhere in the back of his head, words are rearranging themselves, scrambling to find the right combination to express what so desperately needs to be said.

I think I’ll have a cigarette. Would you like one John?


John Chambers has lit a cigarette and is now looking disapprovingly at his computer screen. He is still thinking about coffee and coffee related issues, like the people who could possibly be at the Starbucks® and what might happen if and when he met them there. On the screen, strangely, are the words ‘I think I’ll have a cigarette’. The words just sort of leaked out of his fingers while he sat, waiting for something to inspire him. Nicotine often did the trick, or at least a part of him believed so. As soon as the words were there, John got up, went into the other room, grabbed his Marlboro® cigarettes off the coffee table and lit one without a second thought.

He stood in the living-room-slash-kitchen area and thought about the difference between Tostitos® and Festingos®. He also wondered about the ingredients of Gatorade® as opposed to those of Power-Aid®. He wondered what the difference was between coffee farmers who had their beans purchased under the Fair Trade agreement and those who had been fucked. He wondered what the difference was between people who cringed at the word ‘fuck’ and those who didn’t. He wondered why he couldn’t come up with anything new. He put out that first cigarette, lit another, and then took his ashtray with him back into his room.

I was having my own cigarette while all this was happening. I was thinking about Lisa Jarnot, and the difference between poets and people. I make my own coffee, so Starbucks® does not really concern me. In fact, I think I’ll go freshen my cup.


John Chambers has sprung into action. He is writing furiously. This happens from time to time. All of a sudden, he will feel a lightening of his spirits. The pressure to write, like an eye looming over him, is suddenly gone, and his mind and fingers burn like electricity onto the would-be page on the screen. He writes:

Beans are beans.
Slavery is slavery.
Minimum wage is minimum wage.
Words are words.
Ideas are ideas.
The rain is the rain.
The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain is
the rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.
Stories are stories.
Life is life.
Death is death.
Copies are copies.
Gatorade is Power-Air. (-Air or -Aid? Or -Ade?)
Poets are people.
Beans are beans.
Band-Aids are adhesives strips, but adhesive strips are not Band-Aids.
Slavery is slavery.
Beans are beans.
iPods are iPods.


Coffee is the lifeblood of my existence, by the way. Oh look, it seems that John has stopped writing. He’s staring at the computer screen, taking in some strange poem. Did he write this poem? Of course he did, no one else is here, but where did it come from? Why iPods® and Band-Aids®? Why the rain in Spain, that fell mainly on the plain? He shakes his head, as if to force water from his ears, then lights another cigarette and reads the poem again.

The line from earlier, ‘I think I’ll have a cigarette.’ now looks like some sort of title. He likes the poem, though he wouldn’t be able to explain why, and he can’t help but feel a bit disappointed. He didn’t want to write poetry.

He wants to write stories. He wants to write stories about people, people who do the right thing when the time comes, people who know what the right thing is. He wants to touch the minds of people everywhere, to let them know that he is thinking about them. He wants some of them to be kinder, he wants some of them to be patient, and he wants a few of them to forgive him. 

He finds himself discouraged again, denied access to the words he knows are there in hiding. Another mysterious poem sits in front of him, the meaning, still unclear.


John is making me sad. He reminds me of myself. He reminds me of other people and characters as well. Specifically, he reminds me of John “Jake” Chambers, who died twice, but lives forever, with the last name of Toren, in the hearts and minds of people who left him standing in the snow on page 813, a boy who never knew the way of the gun, and that was a secret blessing.

He also reminds me of Stephen King©.


Now John, this story’s John, is walking down the block toward the Starbucks®. The rain is coming down lightly, a drizzle if you will. There are people at the Starbucks® that he is going to meet, though he does not know yet who they are, and it does not really matter. John has a story to tell, somewhere inside him, and maybe someday it will find life. But not here, not today, not on the way to Starbucks©. John’s story ends once again, here on someone else’s page, and the story itself is all but over as well.


There’s one last thing to do before we go, or should I say, there’s one last thing for me to tell you. Either way, you should see this coming. Give it a thought, you poet, you writer of words and thinker of thoughts. There’s one last loose end to tie up, and if you can feel me, through these words, you know that this is the way it has to be. My words are ending, but his do not exist:

The Intel Celeron© D processor in John’s computer overheats, and the computer snaps off for the last time, dead.

Critique:

There’s a moment in the second episode of Futurama, “The Series Has Landed,” where Bender the robot is attached to a giant magnet,  singing “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain”  against his will because of the magnet’s effect on his hardware. In the middle of this involuntary folk-singing, Bender stops to note, “Hey, I’m pretty good!”

That’s how I feel about this short story. I wrote this as a throw-away story 10 years ago to fill the pages of my portfolio for Creative Writing 360. When I opened the file today, I was expecting a gold-mine of crap, but I’m actually pretty happy with this piece.

Perhaps it is a bit too “meta,” but I’ve always enjoyed self-aware literature. The Stephen King connection is perfect within the context of the piece because of Mr. King’s tendency to wind up in his own novels and movies. The narration may be a little too “cool-guy” or “guy-trying-to-be-cool,” but it is still engaging and the voice is strong and consistant.

The only thing I’m not so enthusiastic about is the “poem” in the middle. It just seems… weak. I love the idea of a character writing something without the knowledge of his creator (and it mirrors the moment where John writes “I think I’ll have a cigarette” after the narrator says the same), but this moment could be a lot stronger, more meaningful, if the poem itself were somehow more of a direct message to the narrator/writer.

Overall, I liked it, I wanted to keep reading, and the ending felt satisfying. Grade: A.

This is a quirky piece of writing with a lot going for it.  There is a tension between the varying levels of fictionality of each of the players, which gives the work a self sustaining energy.    The bookends created by the early mention of the ailing computer, and the final sentence wherein the computer dies is effective.  In a different work it might be too simple, but because some or all the players here exist within words, within the computer to some degree, the event has resonance.

John Chambers’ poem is interesting.  It is a work within a work, a doubling of the writer who is written by another writer as homage to another writer.  The text of the poem drives the point home yet more strongly.  Things are themselves, it tells the reader, but they can be those things differently depending on context.  Is the writer of this piece Stephen King?  No, but also kind of yes.  Or maybe they are both John Chambers.  

There’s not enough arc in this piece to make me comfortable calling it a story.  There is no character growth, no rise or fall of tension, and very little is accomplished.  It’s more of a treatment of an idea than a proper story.  

Was the author trying to do something clever with all those trademarks and copyrights?  I don’t doubt it, but the deluge of little circled letters impedes the reader’s flow without supplying any payoff.  Part of the charm of the poem can be chalked up to the reprieve it offers.  An oasis in a desert where every grain of sand is another freaking trademark.

Overall a clever and memorable piece, with room for some refinement.  Grade: B+

Reflection:

I guess it’s time to talk about Stephen King. (If we must.)

I have frequently observed that my wife and I talk about Stephen King more than most couples, which is particularly strange considering that neither of us has read a Stephen King novel in the past decade. I am all but certain Mackey already has, or will, provide her full and honest opinion of Stephen King as a writer. I could do it for her at this point, but I’ll let her choose what she wants to share, in case Mr. King decides to read this when I Tweet it at him. *

I myself love King’s The Dark Tower series. I read the first four books in high school and eagerly awaited the eventual release of the remaining three. I wasn’t disappointed when they came. The idea of multiple, parallel, interconnected worlds has fascinated me for a long time, and King’s version of it in the Tower series and related novels is one of my favorite representations of it.

I found this Dark Tower/Zelda inspired drawing in the Lime Green Sketchpad (Other ??/??/01) Doc. #002:

Other World
That “Come-Comalla-Come” strangeness is right out of Stephen King’s freaky-ass head.

King played a big part in my coming back to reading after the fiasco that was my middle school education. When I finished catching up with Harry Potter, I started seeking out other “real books” to read (as opposed to the nonsense and garbage that was forced onto me in my English classes). My mother owned literally every Stephen King novel, 98% of them in hardcover (she still buys every new novel). I asked her to recommend one for me and she gave me Pet Semetary.

I thought it sucked. Didn’t finish. (I did, actually.  Of course, I was nine.)

Thankfully, Mr. King got another shot after my father described the plot of The Dead Zone to me (the movie, not the book; my dad’s not a big reader). It sounded pretty cool so I asked to borrow my mom’s copy.

I thought it was ****ing awesome!

That led to me reading 20 Stephen King novels in a row (warning: a high dose of Stephen King has been linked to brain cancer in medical trials on male rats), including the first four Dark Tower books. I got Tim into them, and we spent the next four years talking about it on and off.

Mackey and I have a standing agreement that, should one of us find a portal to another world, we would immediately call the other person and wait for them to arrive before stepping through (unless of course there is some sort of time-limit involved.  Hmm… we should really plan for that contingency). (Maybe we should stop being late to shit all the time.)

It’s probably fair to say that Stephen King has been influential on my writing. I mean, there’s whatever I picked up from reading his book of writing advice and memoir, On Writing. I’ve also “borrowed” some of the ideas he’s used, and the above story reeks of a Stephen King-style meeting of author and character. That, and Mr. King has made me very comfortable with bodily functions on the page. I remember specifically once being told to “cut the masturbation scene” by one of my creative writing professors, and I’m fairly certain it was only because of his literary prudishness. That masturbation session was meaningful for the character, dammit! (But was it meaningful for the reader?  Not every sperm is actually sacred.)

Maybe if I had discovered Terry Pratchett first, my writing would be funnier, with less genitals. (Though a wizard’s staff does have a knob at the end)

Anyway, I hope you liked something here, and if you did, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE click on one of those SHARE buttons below. Thanks for reading!

~Sean L

* The short version is that if you’re going to have good character work and (usually) good ideas, yet you persist in using prose at a third grade level, maybe you’re not actually a novelist but a screenwriter who’s missed the mark.

The long version is much the same, but louder, with more barf noises, and my Stephen King impression: “The monster was scary.  The monster was red.  The red monster ran after the man.  The man died.” 

And then the reader died, too, of boredom.

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