Recommended Reading for Aspiring Writers by Stephen King
Richard Bausch, In the Night Season
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
T. Coraghessan Boyle, The Tortilla Curtain
Michael Chabon, Werewolves in Their Youth
Roddy Doyle, The Woman Who Walked into Doors
Alex Garland, The Beach
Peter Hoeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow
Mary Karr, The Liar’s Club
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible
Jon Krakauer, Into Thin Air
Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories
Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
Ian McEwan, The Cement Garden
Larry McMurtry, Dead Man’s Walk
Joyce Carol Oates, Zombie
Tim O’Brien, In the Lake of the Woods
Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient
Richard Russo, Mohawk
Vikram Seth, A Suitable Boy
Anne Tyler, A Patchwork Planet.
Source: Open Culture
Kurt Vonnegut on Writing a Short Story
- Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
- Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
- Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
- Every sentence must do one of two things–reveal character or advance the action.
- Start as close to the end as possible.
- Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them–in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
- Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
- Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Gillis played with sugar packets arranging and rearranging them. Pickle test tasted packets of soy sauce, duck sauce, barbecue sauce, and spicy mustard. Pickle was on his third round of packets and began slurping the entire packet. Gillis said, “You’re hungry.”
“I didn’t say anything, Gills. How’d you know?”
“Wild guess. Let’s nose around, Dill. We’ll walk up to the buffet bar. Remember what Do Re said about the food. Look but don’t touch. You remember what we’re looking for?”
Pickle’s eyes sparkled. He was back in third grade and he knew the answer, “I sure do, Gills. I looking for senior trying to sneak extra food off the buffet to take home.”
Gillis, always sensitive to Pickle’s desire to be right, said, “Right on target, Dill. While you’re at it, if you notice anyone with only one cufflink, let me know. Take your time at the buffet bar. We’ll talk after Do Re brings us our pizzas.”
Pickle puffed up more brightly than a peacock. “I’m on it. Do you mind if I go to the restroom first?”
Gillis shrugged, “I’ll wait.” He continued rearranging sugar and sugar substitute packets.
Five minutes later Pickle returned. He slid into his chair. He bent toward Gillis and whispered, “I found some unexpected information that may help us with this case.”
Gillis nodded and signaled Pickle to continue.
Pickle reached into his pants pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. He read it, “Call Sara at 555-6767 if you want a good time.”
“How’s this going to help us?” asked Gillis.
“Sara might have seen something. Do you mind if I call her and question her alone tonight?”
“Go for it. Let me know if you had a good time. Let’s head to the buffet bar,” said Gillis.
Gillis and Pickle stood in the buffet line behind fifteen seniors. Eight of the seniors were pushing walkers. Each of the eight walkers had a built in tray device. The seniors with walkers placed two large plates on their tray device. The remaining seven seniors had baby pouches strapped to their chests and carried a single plate.
“What is it, Dill?”
“Are the seniors afraid the Golden Wok is going to run out of food? Why are they stuffing food into the baby pouches? Why do they need two plates? Watch out, one of the seniors is trying to pull his walker out of line and take a cut near the front of the line. Another senior with a walker is swearing at him. They’re swinging their walkers at each other. Should we step in?”
“Ignore it, Dill. When seniors fight over food, the early bird special, coupons, you need backup. We’re not wearing our Kevlar vests. If they take hostages, we’ll call in the SWAT team. You see that? Beautiful move, He faked swinging his walker, and squirted the guy in face with his urine sack.”
The guy who got squirted, “I’m going to sue. I just had my cataracts removed.”
The guy who did the squirting, “You sue and I’ll ban you from playing bingo.”
Gillis said, “I saw something on Unsolved Mysterious on cable about seniors at buffets, Dill. The world’s greatest scientists can’t figure it out. The scientists point out for every ten seniors who head to buffets only seven survive.”
“They got a seven in ten chance, Gills. Those are good odds given the price. Five ninety-nine for all you can eat. I heard a senior say he eats enough so he doesn’t have to eat for two days.”
Twenty minutes later Gillis and Pickle made it through the buffet and back to their table. Two pizzas boxes were on the table. “See anything unusual, Dill?”
I saw a senior stuffing her handbag with chicken wings. Then she started packing food in her cheeks like a squirrel as she went through the buffet.”
“That’s normal according to the scientists. Once you pass a certain age, all you think about is food, how to interfere in your kids lives, and what the neighbors are doing. I meant about our case,” said Gillis.
“Can’t say I did. How about you?” asked Pickle picking out a slice of greasy pepperoni pizza.
“Don’t eat the pizza,” said Gillis.
“Why?” asked Pickle holding a grease laden piece of pepperoni pizza inches from his mouth.
“I’ll tell you in a minute. Put the pizza down carefully and wipe your hands on your shirt. I think I solved the case,” said Gillis watching the grease drip off of Pickle’s slice and slide down his chin and dripping onto his shirt.
“Something bothering you, Gills? What are you thinking about? You buried your face in your hands. What am I missing Gills? Who’s the killer? What tipped you off?”
Gillis & Pickle Are Into Anger Management with Senior Citizens
Gillis & Pickle, the bumbling detectives, return Monday. Gillis renews a friendship with an ex con.
“What is it, Gills? You’re chewing on your bottom lip and twitching your nose. I always can tell when something is troubling you. Was it the cheesecake? It’s riding heavy on my stomach. I shoulda stopped at five pieces,” said Pickle.
Gillis turned slightly toward Pickle, “I was masking my feelings, Dill. I’m going to spill my guts. I’m concerned Wendy is coming on too strong. I think she wants me to make a commitment. I’m not ready for a commitment. Sure, I can commit to a one-night stand every two or three nights. I think that’s more than fair. She wants more than that. She’s looking for a guy who’ll make the coffee in the morning.”
“I know what you’re saying, Gills. I thought you should have hit the breaks when Wendy wanted to sleep with you at the dump. You say yes, it’s almost the same as saying let’s move in and get pizza with toppings we both like.”
“It’s tying me in knots, Dill. I can’t think about the case,” said Gillis.
“You got to dump her, Gills. Tell her if she wants to find commitment to look for it at Disneyland.”
“How so, Dill?” asked Gillis.
“She can find it in fantasy land.”
“Man, I feel better, Dill. Thanks. Two questions, Dill. Did Bro say The Falling Leaf, The Fig Leaf, or The Golden Won Ton? Second question, what is a vegan? I’m current on all the hip stuff. Is it like Uber or Lyft? You got any ideas?” asked Gillis.
“First, Gills, you asked me four questions. That’s no problem because my mind is a highly complex, multi-functioning, state of the art, dendrite wiring, electrical circuit of irrational thought.”
Gillis made an attempt to follow Pickle’s comment. He zoned out at state of the art. Gillis said, “Get to the answers, Dill.”
Pickle answered, “I’m given you background to let you know what I say is accurate.”
I’ve got to think before I speak to him. I’m walking in a minefield each time I open my mouth, thought Gillis.
“Here’s my answers to your queries, Gills. I think the Fig Leaf is an adult sex store. I’m all in favor of starting there. As for Uber and Lyft, they’re the newest social media craze that’s out there. If we want to solve the case, we need to go to the Golden Wok. I’m certain that was the place Bro mentioned. I also have a preference for Chinese buffets. As to vegans, Ve E Gan is the person who started the exclusive society of vegans. Here’s the skinny on vegans. They’re uppity. Sampson is a perfect fit, problem is, Bro, is only a pretend uppity. As for the fourth question, I have lots of ideas. Want to hear some of them?” said Pickle.
“Hold off for now on the ideas. I think better on a full stomach. I hope the Golden Wok adds extra MSG and high sodium soy sauce to my meal,” said Gillis.
“How so?” asked Pickle.
“MSG and high sodium have two primary purposes in any cuisine. First, they’re better than oysters for men. Second, their aroma stays on your clothes like super glue and is a highly researched and proven aphrodisiac that drives women crazy. Not that I need an edge with Wendy, but I’m taking no chances,” said Gillis.
“You changed your mind about Wendy?” asked Pickle.
“I can’t get her out of my mind. If I have to make a commitment for the weekend, I’ll do it. My team has a bye and isn’t playing this weekend,” said Gillis.
“You’re the male guru, Gills. I’m becoming a better man because of you,” said Pickle.
Ten minutes latter Gillis and Pickle pulled into a small, left behind in the 80’s, strip mall on the city’s East side. Gillis surveyed the parking lot and nodded his head toward the Golden Wok. He tapped Pickle on the shoulder, “You got to hand it to the owner of the Golden Wok, Dill, he knew how to pick the best strip mall for his cuisine. Look at the crowd. This place is a gold mine. There’s a Dollar Tree, Goodwill, a blood bank, chiropractor, and a psychic healer. I’m going to grab the last handicap parking space before anyone gets it.”
“You better hurry Gills, look over there,” said Pickle. He pointed to an SUV packed with seniors heading toward the handicap parking place. The SUV had a large handicap tag hanging from the rearview mirror.
“Not to worry. Pickle. I’ll nick the cart corral so it’ll tip in front of them. They’ll have to take the long way around. Get the rag ready to hang over the sign,” said Gillis.
Gillis’s pickup and the SUV filled with seniors were on a collision course for the same handicap parking spot. Gillis underestimated the driving agility of his competitor. A white haired guy with a NASCAR hat knocked over a trash barrel sending refuse spewing, then he nicked the cart corral blocking Gillis and Pickle from pulling ahead. Gillis swerved to avoid a collision with a mom pushing a stroller with twins. His quick action avoided a tragedy, but brought his pickup into contact with a live chicken delivery truck destined for the Golden Wok. Moments later two hundred chickens bust loose from captivity. A pickup truck loaded with illegal Mexican farm workers skidded to a stop. The illegal workers jumped out and chased the chickens. Leon, Do Re, and Buttercup came out of the restaurant. Leon waved a butcher knife and screamed obscenities at the illegal workers. Every other obscenity began with the word mother. One of the illegal Mexican farm workers brandished a machete and returned the obscenities to Leon in Spanish. Gillis worked his way around the chaotic scene and whacked the SUV on the right rear taillight causing it to spin 180 degrees and face away from the handicap parking space.
Gillis and Pickle, their Smith and Wesson’s drawn, piled out of the pickup. Gillis hustled to the driver’s side door of the SUV and set himself in a shooter’s stance with his gun aimed at the 80 year old driver. Pickle in the same stance on the passenger side of the SUV aimed his gun at seventy-seven year old cue tip on the passenger side.
Gillis screamed, “Come out with your hands behind your heads, driver’s registration between your lips. Anybody with false teeth leave them in the car.”
A moment later, clink, clink. From the inside of the car, “Watch it Helen, I don’t have a second pair.”
“Where’d you get those Jack, they almost look real.”
“You had a fake gold tooth put in your uppers? Does Medicare pay for it?”
The seven seniors lined up facing the SUV, their hands on the roof, spread eagle. “Pat em down, Dill. They might be carrying,” ordered Gillis.
Gillis announced, “I’m calling backup. You have the right to remain silent, anything you say will be ignored. If you make a false move, my partner will blast you with pepper spray. Is anyone recording this to put on the Internet?”
“What are we charged with, Officer,” said an 85 year old woman.
Gillis blurted out the first thought in his mind, “We’ve been watching this sex ring for months. We’ve finally got you with the goods.”
An old woman snapped at the man next to her, “Harold, I told you to leave the condoms at the retirement home. At my age I don’t need safe sex. I need sex.