Long Live the King!

I just finished reading Stephen King’s On Writing. It’s a memoir of sorts, first published in 2000. In the first one hundred pages he recalls stories of his growing up, describing how he became a writer. Actually, King was born a writer, but how he became a successful writer is quite a story, from magazines rejecting his short stories to the first publication of one of his novels, Carrie. Written in 1973 while King was teaching school and living in a $90 a month apartment with a wife and kids to support, it changed everything.

Jack Torrance’s typewriter in the movie “The Shining,” based on King’s novel. Photo by: China Crisis.

In the second half of his book he gives a lot of advice about writing, particularly for wannabe novelists. His prime rule consists of four words: Read. Write. A lot.

King reads because he likes to read, but he also notes, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

One of the pleasures in King’s book is that he names names — Charles Dickens, Margaret Mitchell, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, John Grisham, Tom Wolfe, J.K. Rowling, and many, many more through the ages. When he’s discussing style, plot development, character development, dialogue, and symbolism, he gives lots of examples, both from his works, as well as from others. For a book on the tools of the book trade, it’s never boring and surprisingly entertaining.

King also goes into detail on his run-in with a light blue Dodge van in 1999, while he was walking on a country road. The van hit him, and King suffered horrific injuries, including broken bones and a collapsed lung, and endured multiple surgeries. The quick arrival of emergency personnel saved his life. Physical therapy sped his recovery process. Eventually, he began writing again.

With the publication of several short story collections and full-length works, such as Doctor Sleep and Mr. Mercedes, over the past decade, it’s safe to say that he’s back and in fine form.

Are you trying to decide what to read this weekend? Do want to improve your prose? Or, are you looking for a pick-me-up? Pick up a copy of On Writing by Stephen King. (Oh, that’s corny. But apt.)

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved



Never a Wasted Moment

I’ve been a big fan of Sue Grafton’s since Kinsey Millhone, the thirty-year old private investigator at the center of Grafton’s series, solved her first case and shot a murderer dead in “A is for Alibi” in 1982.

Photo by:

Photo by:

Life moves slowly in Santa Teresa, the fictional California town that Kinsey calls home.  In the latest entry, “W is for Wasted,” it’s only 1988, when “it looked like things were as bad as they were going to get.  On the national front, congressional spending was a whopping $1,064.14 billion and the federal debt was topping out at $2,601.3 billion.  Unemployment hovered at 5.5 percent and the price of a first-class postage stamp had jumped from twenty-two cents to twenty-five.”

Makes you long for decades past, doesn’t it?

Kinsey, now thirty-seven, is as feisty as ever, as independent as ever, still living in her studio apartment where her elderly landlord, Henry, keeps a watchful eye on her.  When she takes a road trip to Bakersfield, he gives her a map, so she can get where she’s going.  Yep, there’s no GPS.  When she checks into a motel, she calls him with her phone number, just in case he needs to get in touch with her. Nope, she doesn’t have a cell phone.  No one does.

Kinsey conducts her interviews face-to-face.  She takes notes on index cards and types her reports on a Smith-Corona. After filling out a legal document, she makes copies on a Xerox machine and personally drops the original off at the courthouse.

Before falling asleep at night, Kinsey curls up with a Dick Francis novel.  Waiting for an appointment, she picks up a copy of People to learn that Bruce Springsteen is dumping his wife actress Julianne Phillips and hooking up with Jersey Girl Patti Scialfa.

It feels so right to relive the eighties through Kinsey’s eyes.  It makes me want to put on my jogging shoes and go for a run first thing in the morning, just like she does. I think the next book in the series should be “X is for Xhilerating.” Or, for this aging reader, make that “xhausting.”

© 2014 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

Deja vu all over again?  Watch Bruce Springsteen and Jimmy Fallon spoof Chris Christie’s Bridgegate to “Born to Run.”


Fall is in the Air: Read a Book

The 99 most banned books from 1990-2000. Photo by: The East Branch of the Dayton Metro Library

The 99 most banned books from 1990-2000. Photo by: The East Branch of the Dayton Metro Library

Even if you’re not heading back to school, it’s a great time to read a book.  In fact, read a banned book.

Banned Books Week this year is September 22 to September 28.  The annual celebration began in 1982 to promote freedom from censorship.

You’ll be shocked at the books that libraries and bookstores have been kept from putting on their shelves over the years, if you aren’t already familiar with their history.  To name just a few*, which were required reading when I was in school:

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman, 1855.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, 1884.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, 1906.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, 1939.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, 1952.

To protect their children from the ugly and offensive, parents persist in protesting many noteworthy tomes long after they were first published. In 1977 one school district pronounced The Scarlet Letter (1850) by Nathaniel Hawthorne “pornographic and obscene.” In 1996 another school district prohibited Moby Dick (1851) by Herman Melville from its classrooms because it “conflicted with their community values,” whatever they were.

Critics have called J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951) unacceptable, blasphemous, negative, foul, and filthy. Some terms applied to other literary classics include trash, violent, sexually graphic, and potentially controversial.

Although just about anyone is able to find just about anything on the Internet, there are those who continue to try to impose their opinion on everyone else. Why not let the reader decide: to read or not to read?

Just last year self-appointed censors attempted to keep Fifty Shades of Grey, an erotic romance by E.L. Grey, out of the hands of the public.  Now, I’m pretty sure that the book and its sequels don’t appear on any required reading lists, except, perhaps, for an advanced college course in Women’s Studies.  Still, the trilogy has topped best-seller lists around the world, selling over seventy million copies. It will be made into a movie, its success all but insured.

The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ 2005 memoir, which spent over 260 weeks on The New York Times Best Seller list, has its share of critics, as well.  It recounts the author’s unconventional childhood, dealing with such issues as poverty and mental illness.  Yes, let’s keep this book out of the hands of anyone who can’t address these issues head on.  Meanwhile, it, too, is being made into a movie.

Can’t wait for the movie?  Read a book, and celebrate your right to read. You might gain a new perspective. Isn’t that what books are all about?

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved

For a more complete list of books that have been banned or challenged, visit:


View and Review

Book CoverThis review is by John Burroughs for Midwest Book Review and reposted below:

Hollywood or Bust: Movie Stars Dish on Following Their Dreams, Making It Big, and Surviving in Tinseltown collects more than 500 quotes, wisecracks, tell-it-like-it-is tips, and words of wisdom from popular stars and directors, including Ben Affleck to Jackie Chan, George Clooney, Carole Burnett, and many more. Grouped by subject, these vignettes offer a condensed glimpse of the trials and tribulations of the showbiz industry, and are just plain fun for a quick browse anytime. Hollywood or Bust also makes an excellent gift book for anyone who loves TV and movies! “I’d say the cut-off point for leading ladies today is thirty-five to forty whereas half the men in Hollywood get their start then. It’s a terrible double standard.” -Kathleen Turner, actress


To view the original on the Midwest Book Review Bookwatch – August 2013, scroll down seven categories to Burroughs’ Bookshelf.


It’s Summertime. Read a Book.

Photo by: Vicki Ashton

Photo by: Vicki Ashton

Looking for a good book to read?  Sometimes one’s hard to find.

Nothing in the reviews in the New York Times and the New Yorker jumps out at you.  Scouring your local newspaper, if you still take a local newspaper, hasn’t yielded just the right result.  And you don’t trust the reviews in People magazine.

So check out what “the people” have to say.

In its own words, “Goodreads is a free website for book lovers. Imagine it as a large library that you can wander through and see everyone’s bookshelves, their reviews, and their ratings.”  With eighteen million members it must be doing something right.  And all those members have posted twenty-four million reviews and counting.

Books are organized by category, such as art, biography, comedy, history, and mystery.  Simply skim the recommendations that are tailored to your interests.

Alternatively, peruse ”Recent Updates From the Community” on the home page. There should be something that appeals to you.

Did you miss the Hunger Games craze?  Well, a reader gives the first book in the series by Suzanne Collins five stars, but no synopsis. There’s always Amazon to find out what it’s all about.

Do you like the classics?  One reader recommends the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird.  I recommend seeing the movie starring Gregory Peck.

Want to be frightened into action?  Books by both Stephen King and Dean Kootz are mentioned.  The Shining was described as “the scariest book ever.”   But who hasn’t seen the movie?

Does it sound like I’m mocking the efforts of these critics? I’m not.  Really.

On a recent search I was reminded that I have been intending to read Abraham Verghese’s 2009 novel Cutting the Stone.  It’s about conjoined twins separated at birth who follow in their father’s path to become doctors.  I added it to my “want to read” list.

And I’ve devoured many of Barbara Kingsolver’s books, but I missed The Poisonwood Bible.  It, too, now resides on my list.

Someone somewhere has written just the book for which you’re looking, and someone on Goodreads has written a review about it.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved


P.S. I also joined the program as a Goodreads author to promote my book Hollywood or Bust.  Type in my name.  Sign up for the free giveaway (winners are picked randomly at the end of July).  Write a review, if that’s your thing.  Thank you.



100 Years Ago in Pop Culture for the Highbrow, Middlebrow, and Lowbrow

California or bust! Photo from: California Historical Society, San Francisco, CA.

Halloween is in a few days, and everyone knows what that means.  We’ll soon be raking leaves, if we haven’t started already, eating too much on Thanksgiving, shoveling more snow, putting the Christmas decorations up, and ringing in the New Year.  Before 2011 slips away, it seems to be a good time to look back and reflect on “the more things change…”

Here is my top ten hit list of people, places, and pop culture from 1911 that continue to resonate today.

10.  The first Indianapolis 500-Mile Race was held. It became an annual event, except for America’s involvement during World Wars I and II.  Ray Harroun, the winner, averaged 74.602 miles per hour.  This year’s winner, Dan Wheldon, averaged 170.265 miles per hour.   He died several months later in a fiery fifteen-car pileup at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

9.  Can you name that tune?  Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band, his first great success, was the most popular song of the year.   Let Me Call You Sweetheart and Down By the Old Mill Stream were runners-up.  Whose songs will we be singing in another one hundred years?

8.  And whose books will we be reading?  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton were published, as were books by Frank L. Baum, Joseph Conrad, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, Beatrix Potter, Bram Stoker, and H.G. Wells.

7.  The New York Pubic Library opened.  More than one million books were set in place for the official dedication, and up to 50,000 visitors streamed through the building on opening day.  The library’s collections now total nearly 53 million items (books, videotapes, maps, etc.), surpassed only by the Library of Congress and the British Library.

6.  The silent French film The Hunchback of Notre Dame was released.  Charles Laughton starred as Quasimodo in the 1939 talkie.  Disney made an animated version in 1996.  The 1831 novel by Victor Hugo on which the story is based remains in print.

5.  After a hard-fought campaign women in California won the right to vote.  They soon began running for and being elected to public office and never stopped.   Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi are from the great state.

4.  Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois.  As Governor of California, he signed the Family Law Act, which took the blame game out of divorce proceedings.  As President, he advocated reducing tax rates to spur economic growth and reducing government spending, the hot button campaign issues of the moment.

3.  Marie Rudisill, also known as the Fruitcake Lady for her appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, was born in Monroeville, Alabama.  Although passing away five years ago, she has her own Wikipedia page, 220 “likes” on Facebook (come on, people, we can do better than that!), and many, many YouTube clips.

2.  Others born in 1911 whose accomplishments we continue to admire include: Ginger Rogers, Roy Rogers, and Will Rogers, Jr., none of whom were related.  There’s also comedian Lucille Ball, actress Jean Harlow, novelist William Golding, playwright Tennessee Williams, librettist W. S. Gilbert, and baseball player Hank Greenberg.  Milton Bradley, creator of Life, reached the end of the game, as did toy retailer F.A.O. Schwarz.  Producer of sour mash Tennessee Whiskey Jack Daniel died of an infection, and newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, who filled the pages of his papers with exposés and scandals, quietly succumbed on his yacht.

1.  Photoplay and Motion Picture Story, two of the first American fan magazines, began in response to the ever increasing interest in the private lives of celebrities.  Today celebrities take nude photos of themselves on their cell phones and tweet their fans.

Is there anything from a hundred years ago that you’d like to add?  Drop me a line.

© 2011 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved