Book #8 – The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

The first time I read this book was probably sometime in college.  I’ve never seen the movie, but the book struck me as pretty darn creepy.  The last time I read it was in 1999 or 2000, sometime after moving here.  Still creepy.  This time…  Not so much.  Maybe it’s because I’m reading it for style this time.  Maybe it’s because in the last three years or so there’s been a bit of a jump in how much we know (and how much I know) about the workings of the brain/mind.  Maybe it’s because I’ve turned much more skeptical in my world view.  I will say that I don’t think Blatty writes an atheist well.  Chris is more just not religious than a non-believer.  Also, his dialogue just isn’t very good sometimes.  Sometimes spot on, sometimes reflecting things no one says…ever.

My last notes, craftwise:

Before page 120 or so I had made this observation:
The priestly scenes are all full of doubt, often with fragments showing memories, feelings.
Medicine, very clinical.  Strong, sturdy, correct sentences.
Psychiatry: dialogue, quick giving of information.
Showing how Blatty thinks of all these things.

But after about 120, it’s all somewhat bland.  There’s a few  nice passages, but there’s something that I was looking for in Blatty’s writing that is not there.

I observed:
The triple repeating of a charged phrase: bone-white crucifix (pg 189) brought tension to a kind of bland presentation of events.  What makes the pounding in The Haunting of Hill House so effective versus the pounding here?

And I proposed: cadence, rhythm.

Looking at two passages in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, that’s exactly what I found.

pg 161
Eleanor and Theo in the dark, the “whose hand was I holding” scene.
The repetition, the rhythm.  There is a breathing pace to these sentences.
Another interesting thing about that particular passage is that Jackson starts right in.  No preamble.  It’s right at a subchapter break.

Pg 127
Again jumps in.  Of course isn’t afraid to be in Eleanor’s head, but then the book could almost be written in first person.
The cold is more effective here too than in Blatty.  Instead of it just being cold, Jackson gives it…malice.

In Block too… the characters try to convince themselves there’s nothing to be scared of, all while the phenomena is taking place.

This pattern, is it a trademark of writers of a particular time?

I’d like to read some Stephen King next.  Wish I had a copy of The Shining, but I’ll settle for Dolores Claiborne  or maybe one of the Different Season novellas, which are the only things I have around.

*** *** *** *** *** ***
Random:  Do people who grew up with vinyl records treat their CDs and DVDs better?  I can’t believe how fingerprinted and gucky some DVDs I rent are.  What do people do with their DVDs?  And then I remember my brother with CDs and DVDs tossed to the four winds around his room, his apartment, and his efforts to later buff out the scratches.  Or (to sound really old) is it just that people these days don’t take care of their things?

Our game last Thursday was canceled.  Still wasn’t too inclined to exercise, but I did run on Friday and Eric and I ran and threw on Sunday.  Really stretched my hamstrings yesterday.  Didn’t run today, instead I did house work.

Had dinner at BJ’s with Sylwester and a bunch of other people.  Too many people really, but it made up for lack of socializing on Thursday.  DMed a bit.  No Rifts, yay!  But, no Chris either though.  He wasn’t feeling well.  That boy’s always sick.   Watched Casino Royale.  I’m gonna have to buy that movie.  Watched the extras today, including one about Bond girls.  Halle Berry was going on about growing up watching the franchise and wanting to be part of the female niche in the films, that of the Bond girl.  Nope, I never wanted to be a Bond girl.  I wanted to be Bond.  These days I’d settle for being M.  Judi Dench kicks ass.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Lesson 3, part A: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

Did I mention with Bloch the technique of describing it then naming it?  Good example of stepping around and past an emotion and then totally nailing it (pg 12).

Give a character a very obvious nervous habit?  (pg 14)

Blatty  works his fragments differently.  Smaller.
Like page 36:  “Chris was setting down the bird when she noticed the Ouija board.  Close.  On the table.”
I’m not entirely sure these work.

Also uses fragments to compress time. (pg 118)

Good at setting up voice.  Chris’ voice, different from Damien’s.  The clinic scenes are clinical with sturdy, correct sentences.

Dialogue is rough though.  Too many words when shock and fear are the emotions.

*** *** *** *** *** ***

Today has been slow.  Did housework.  The part scene needs a change.  Thinking about it, what needs to be done.  Reading some.  My work schedule have been nights lately.  I find it hard getting anything done between 1pm and 6pm.

Book #7 – American Gothic by Robert Bloch

Wow.  My reading speed is dizzying.  It’s been a whole month since I finished reading a full novel.  This is also:

Lesson 2, part B:

Bloch uses repetition well when setting up suspense (pg 57).  Interesting technique.  Also, good use of active words, and word choices that reply on their connotations to charge the prose (pg 73-76).  Several style things I like about Bloch writing: Lack of “said,” very admirable when a said can be left out.  Also, judicious use of “and.”  You know, sometimes and isn’t really needed.  Also, use of very descriptive passages to build as well as break tension.

Plot-wise, the ending was lacking.  Too much extension of the end scene.  Also like Bloch’s Ripper book, the attitudes of people, especially women are way too modern.  There’s a few things that I just didn’t buy either.  (***More Spoiler than Usual***)  Gregg keeping the hearts?  Isn’t greed a good enough reason for mass murder?  Crystal wanting to marry her newspaper editor?  Where the hell did that come from?  And to resolve that on the last page of the book? 

Psycho would probably be a good next read, but I think I need a break from Bloch.  So, The Exorcist next?

So far this has been helpful with my writing.  It’s been slow going though.  I can’t believe it’s the 21st already.  It’s just hard to move quickly at this lately.

Lesson 2, part A: American Gothic by Robert Bloch

With the intent of providing myself with a small amount of pseudo-entertainment, I went to my bookshelves with the intent of finding something that would fulfill the criteria of what I’m looking for in my “lessons” that I haven’t read yet.  Those criteria being: a novel with multiple character POVs, having some of the elements of investigation and mystery that might provide good taut scenes.

American Gothic could be perfect or it could be an utter failure depending on whether Block works it well.  In any case, it’s a very fast read.  I made it to page 50 by just reading while traveling to disc today.  Already there are a few instances, which I noted in ink in the book, of where Bloch uses deliberately short pause-y cadence to denote shocking actions (pg 14) and excitement (pg 17, 30).  In the former especially, it’s the contrast between the slightly meandering thoughts of a female protagonist and the sudden actions that happen to her.

Played terribly today.  Just awful.  I blame tension.  Hope I play better tomorrow night.

Work has been going apace.  Eric and I have been talking much more.  Which is exhausting, but most likely worthwhile.

Lesson 1b: The coming of the Trollocs from The Eye of the World  (Chapter Five, pg 57 – 63)

I don’t recall this scene as being that good, but I want to read something of Jordan’s that has a lot of action.

All the action is in short, curt phrases, very clear actions being described.  The sentences may at times be long, but they are broken with commas/pauses.  A definite rhythm.  The sentences become smoother when we have a more introspective moment with Rand.

Better than I remember, but still not as masterful as the beginning of the first chapter.

Time to write out a conversation that’s overheard.

Lesson One:  The first chapter of Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World

When Eric was trying to convince me to begin Jordan’s long, on-going fantasy series (long, on-going, and series all being negative modifiers in my opinion), he finally said, “Just read the first chapter.  Not the prologue, skip the prologue.  Read the first chapter.”  And I did, and I was hooked.  I haven’t re-read The Eye of the World and I read it probably going on ten years ago.  My memory of that first chapter is the chilling quality of the eyeless rider on the road.  Will it stand up to inspection now?  And how does Jordan make that work?

First paragraph is that usual Wheel-Ages-Forgotten-Myths paragraph.  It’s slow, and even when I read it the first time, I was dubious of whether I was going to a fantasy series that started in such a fantasy series way.

Second paragraph, Jordan does a seemingly Peter-Jackson-like swoop from the landscape of the world to two men and a cart on the road.  A desolate scene, two lonely men being battered by the wind in contrast to how big and ageless the the writing has been.

First, indication that all may not be right is Rand’s readied bow, Rand’s wanting to be sure that his father is still walking with them.  We see no danger here, and aside from the queerness of the weather, Jordan gives no explanation as to why this young man might be jumpy.  “But it was that kind of day” is all he says.

Fifth and sixth paragraphs, more about the weather and how it’s affected the flora.  “It was an awkward morning, made for unpleasant thoughts.”  And more about the strangeness of the times.  A bad winter, full of animal attacks.

Description of Tam and Rand and why they are traveling.

“…the feeling grew in him that he was being watched…”
But Rand shrugs it off, and the reader takes that moment to really expect something to happen. 

It is unexpected that Rand should feel hatred coming from the rider.  Utter hatred.  For a moment, Jordan’s writing gets choppy and shorter.  There’s repetition of clause, and honestly, it mimics pulse.  Rand is entranced, slowed, and so are we as the reader.

Really, the revelation about the wind not touching the rider is a less effective thing.  It comes as an after-thought to Rand, and as a reader we have to go back and quickly edit what we just experienced to match that.  Unfortunately, while keeping the tone during that first sighting of the rider, I don’t think Jordan has a good opportunity to add it earlier.

The rest of the chapter introduces us to Rand’s life.  The dark rider is touched on again when Rand finds out that Mat has seen it too.  While the incident is obviously strange, Mat’s glibness takes away from any feeling of mystery.

The service for Albin was nice.  At the end, the family shared memories of him, and it occurred to me that they could almost have been talking about my cousin Jack that died back in November.  I didn’t know until about a month or so ago and I really hadn’t had taken much of a moment to think about Jack being gone.

Spent my Oscar bet dinner afterwards at Four Peaks.  I had a rather tasty beef sandwich, though it wasn’t as good as Oregano’s.

Also had a long painful talk about the weaknesses of my writing.  It’s the refrain of  many talks, actually.  I’m too safe in my writing.  Too conversational.  Too passive.  And I need to learn how to not be.  Especially when I’m writing mystery/horror.  I’m going to begin by reading some people who do it well and try to gleam from them what works.  Before I forget, I’m thinking of including Thomas Harris, Ricard Laymon and that House of Leaves…thing, as well as maybe Gaiman, Block, Matheson…   Erm…  There’s no syllabus for this so I’m making it up as I go along…