NOS4R2 aka NOS4A2, by Joe Hill: Family Tradition

NOS4R2 Joe Hill Carrying on a family tradition

Had it not been my birthday, I never would have read NOS4R2 by Joe Hill. Firstly, because I’d never heard of it and secondly, because I’d never heard of him. But there is a family tradition in the Smith household. Every year on my birthday, my daughter buys me the latest Stephen King novel. It is a nice tradition as I am a rabid King fan and, thus far, the master has never failed to enthral me with his stories.

The tradition had fallen a bit behind. The last few years have been fragmented. Divorce, or as I liked to phrase it at the time, running away from home, injury; near death; early retirement; job losses; new life choices; and a new job have all interrupted the King tradition.

This year, though, found a new author’s offering being placed in my hands on the day of my birth (actually the day before as I was unavailable on the real day). As Megs, my daughter, and Max, her significant other, presented the massive tome to me, she explained that Joe Hill was not just any writer, he was the offspring of Stephen and Tabitha King. She’d read good things about the book and as I’d already purchased the latest King book, via Kindle, this was her solution.

There is an old adage that states: “An acorn never falls far from the tree.” In author Joe Hill’s case, this is obviously true. I can honestly say that I have not been this excited by a new author since I first discovered this writer’s father, Stephen King, back in 1979.

The book was The Stand and it is still my favourite King book. I still re-read it and still enjoy the hell out of it. This book was the first one that had characters I could relate to, like, and recognise; even the baddies struck a chord. You were able to empathise and understand their actions. They seemed real.

The Stand

Joe Hill (I know, you’re thinking: “Geeze, it took you over 300 words to get to the guy. Hurry up, already!”) has that same knack of making his characters understandable, relatable, and you can connect.

The other ability he has is that his words and story move so quickly that they seem to scream along the pages. Like his father’s books, I literally could not put the story down until I had finished it. Although I did have to read it in bits and pieces over the weekend, as I write the most myself on those two days for the paper I work for. I got the book on Friday the 20th of September and finished it on Sunday the 22nd of September.

At 698 pages, it is not a small literary effort. It is a massive bit of work that was addictive from the first page.  Joe Hill is carrying on the family tradition of superlative writing combined with a breakneck pace that thrills and entertains.

The story is, in essence, an ensemble piece that really focusses around five characters: Charles Talent Manx – whom we meet first in the story; Victoria ‘Vic‘ aka “the Brat” McQueen – whom we meet next; Bing Partridge – the next player we bump into; Maggie the librarian and her special Scrabble tiles,  Louis “Lou” Carmody – the fifth member of this saga; and finally Wayne Carmody – product of Lou and Vic’s union.

There are other peripheral characters who flit in and out of the story, but although important in their own way, they are too distracting to include in  a review.

At the start of the book Charles Talent Manx is in a coma. He is a very evil man who is very old and should, by all rights, be dead. Vic is a girl who rides her Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle to places much further than usual with the aid of a decrepit old covered bridge called the “Shorter Way Bridge.”

With her bike and the bridge, she meets Maggie and she finds “things.”

She learns from the librarian that her ability to travel and find lost items really has nothing to do with the bike or the bridge, she has something in her that allows her to do these things. But the ability is aided by the bike. This ability also costs. Vic pays a price for her trips, just as Maggie pays for her secret tile knowledge.

Manx wakes from his coma and resumes his evil ways with the help of his old partner in crime Bing. The two abduct children and take them to an imaginary place called Christmasland. Both men are murderers, but Manx kills and collects souls with the help of a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith.

Vic, Maggie, and Manx all share the same ability. They can create a reality that parallels the real world and they all have a device to help them. When Vic found Manx when she was younger, she defeated him and in the process lost her bike. She is saved, partially, by Lou Carmody and they become a couple.

Years later, after Manx returns, she must re-learn how to find the Shorter Way Bridge so she can save her son who has been taken by Bing and Manx.

Joe Hill has taken the genre of horror and revitalised it. NOS4A2, or NOS4R2 in England, is Hill’s third novel and apart from bearing a striking resemblance to his famous father, he has taken onboard all the things that work in the world of horror.

But, Hill has his own voice. There are areas of his work that seems vaguely familiar, but, not in a bad way. It is more in the way of reassurance. His writing says: “Look, I’ve learned a thing or two about writing from a master. Who am I to turn my back on it?”

I agree.

NOS4R2/NOS4A2 by Joe Hill is an excellent entertaining bit of literary magic. He has kept up the family tradition of simultaneously scaring the pants off of his reader while allowing them to really care about all the players. I have discovered a new “favourite author” and will have to make room in my bulging bookcase for more of his work.

This is a real 5 out of 5 star read.

Joe Hill carrying on the family tradition

Blogging Challenges Finding the Time to Write

My work desk.
My work desk.

Since I moved over to WordPress last year in April, my personal circumstances have changed dramatically. I’ve been the recipient of two live changing events and my life has gone in directions that I never would have dreamed of. Well, except in the area of acting, that’s a dream that never went away. Now I find my personal challenges of blogging all have to do with finding the time to write.

The vast majority of my day is spent writing. I attempt to post at least six to seven articles a day for my newspaper and often exceed that number. But unfortunately I also have to fit in cleaning the house – which I’m abysmal at – and going on my healthy heart walks. I also have to fit in “house” maintenance, another area I’m failing badly in; my grass is getting tall enough that is could harbour escapees from the Serengeti. I expect to see Tarzan and his sidekick peering back at me from the foliage.

The other part of my day is spent collating the over 1,500 pictures I took in South Africa for the writers at the paper who are putting together our trilogy of recent events in that country. I also spend a great deal of time talking to new writers who are joining our organisation and combing the internet for new stories to write about.

I can honestly say, hand over heart, that I am busier now than I’ve ever been in my entire life.  I am still struggling to find time to visit my friends blogs and leave comments. My interest in their output has not waned, but I’m struggling to write enough to ensure that I can live without having to ingest cat food to survive.

And my  professional writing, has taken precedence over my “creative” writing. Sometimes the two are combined, but very rarely, and my newfound love of investigative journalism has knocked creativity into a very solid second place.

I still enjoy writing the “fluff” or entertainment as it’s really categorised, but it’s harder for me to get excited about it. My mind keeps going back to South Africa and all the “hidden” stories there that are just waiting for me to uncover and write about. But that may, or may not, happen. Money, as always,  is the motivating and ruling factor in all travel plans and I won’t know if I’m returning until later this month.

Gold Mine Dump
South African Gold Mine Dump

In the meantime, there are films to watch (and review) stories to tell and news articles to write to ensure a decent wage. I can safely say that the two life changing events (and my divorce the year before) have put me in a very strange, yet happy, place. I am busier now than ever and I find myself in the rather unusual position of being in demand; not to mention much being a much appreciated member of  my ruling organisation.

I am being recompensed handsomely for the fruit of my labour and I have dreams of clawing my way out of the debt that my divorce landed me in.But the daily challenges of blogging are difficult to overcome. Finding the time to write own personal creative blog posts is becoming ever more difficult. I am, admittedly, struggling. Not that I’m complaining.  But the handsome remuneration doesn’t make up for my absence of mixing in the blogging community.

I am  concerned for an old friend. Marilyn over at Serendipity. She  is in a bad place at the moment. If I had been reading my all my friend’s blogs I would have known, but as I haven’t had time, it took an email from my good friend to alert me of her latest problem.

When I got the email, I felt shock, guilt, and dismay; all in equal measure. Guilt did finally become the winner of the gamut of emotions that I felt when I read what was going on. I almost missed what was happening to her and it upset me terribly. If you have a minute and haven’t done so already, follow the above link and read this amazing ladies blog and offer some support.

I can only say that I’ll try to do better, I’ve already tried to schedule my day to at least continue to write a daily blog entry and now I realise that I need to make time to visit my friend’s blogs as well. I have mentioned before that I am basically a lazy bugger, so all this increased activity is difficult for me to adjust to.

I am trying though and the challenges of blogging right now have to do with me struggling to find the time to write. It is yet another development in my ever changing life that I must adapt to. I want to publicly thrash myself with brambles to apologise to one of my dearest friends in the blogging community and I ask that everyone head over to give this remarkable lady some love.

Michael Smith


United Kingdom

8 August, 2013

The First 500 are the Hardest

The First 500 are the Hardest

I had a litte moan about 200 followers ago about the fact that after the big 2-oh-0h that WordPress didn’t give you any sort of fanfare for the 300 or the 400 follower mark. Little did I know that they wait until the 500 mark to say a big, “Well done!”

I cannot say that it got here all too quickly, because that would be a lie. It seemed to take no time at all to get to the 200 point and then?

It felt like time stood still for  awhile. But it didn’t, not really.

It was just that things had changed, the way I wrote changed, the amount I wrote changed…my  life changed.

I won’t go through everything that has changed in my life, I did that in my previous post. But I will say this, I cannot begin to express how grateful I am about everything.

But first I have to thank two very, very special people (Actually it’s three, but who’s counting?)

I have to do a huge shout out to Marilyn over at Serendipity she and her other half, Garry, have been enormously supportive ever since I first made their acquaintance on WordPress. She has a wonderful blog and if you haven’t strolled over there yet, just take a second to click on the above link and have a look. You’ll be impressed, I promise you. Then, if you’ve a mind to, hit that follow button. You won’t regret it.

The second person I have to give a singular shout out to is Natasha over at Films and Things. Natasha is a media student, writer, director and producer all rolled into one person. She has given me, perhaps the greatest gift ever, she has cast me in the lead role in her first professional short film, Once Bitten, Twice Shy. As those of you who have been following me for awhile, I’ve written about my love of acting and my frustration at having to turn my back on it, several times. Now I have a chance to get back in front of the camera after a long absence. Thanks Tasha!

I also, have to thank Natasha for putting me up for an award, a loooong time ago, and I still haven’t responded to it! Sorry Tasha, it means loads that you thought of me when it came time for dishing that one out, I will make it up to you, I promise…

But I also need to thank all the other folks who have stuck with me since I started on WordPress. If I thanked all of you separately, I wouldn’t get anything done as the Deputy Managing Editor for The Guardian Express. If you haven’t had a look at our great site, have a look now by clicking on the link. I’ve already been linking articles that I write that have a special place in my heart, either because of content or just because I think I’ve written something particularly well. But I don’t link them all, as we have a lot of writers who all bring something special to the table.

I’m not going to get back on the “apology train” again, but I will get back to something that resembles “normality” on here pretty soon. I’m running around like a headless chicken at the moment, trying to develop a schedule that allows me to donate a little time to everything. I’m getting closer to that goal and you will soon see more “daily” postings of articles.

Until then, I want to say thank you to all my new followers! I haven’t had time to thank you all personally yet, but I will! I’m not so far up my own nether-regions that I don’t think I need to. I’ve just not had the time.

It takes a lot of hard work to do a daily blog. You all know that, I don’t want you to think I am “teaching you how to suck eggs,” but I did want to mention it.   I was doing up to three, if not four, posts a day, now I don’t have the time. But I will get back to at least one per day.

So, in essence, I started writing this about how it really feels like getting the first 500 followers is the hardest part about blogging and, like my life at the moment, it has evolved into something different than what  I had planned.

Thanks to my very special two bloggers (friends) and thanks to the folks that are too numerous to personally shout out. But you guys know who you are, until recently, I always tried to talk to you folks daily if possible. I’ll get back to that soon as well, I promise.

So until I can get on here again, may all you very special folks have the best of today and an even better tomorrow.  I mean that, because you’ve all got a very special place in my heart.



Blogging Part 2: Editing Your Own Blog Post


*This could be seen as an extension of  my previous blogging post so I’m treating it as a part 2.  And just to let you know, I am not an expert.*

Self editing is a big bone of contention for me.  As  a writer, whether said writer is professional or amateur, we are more used to the actual act of putting our thoughts and fancies on the page and not double or triple checking our output. It seems that when we edit our own work, we tend to miss the more obvious mistakes while looking for the more eclectic ones.

For example: recently I uploaded a post that I had taken ages to edit. *”Ages” to me means more than three passes over the article, it doesn’t really equate to a real time.*  Once I was satisfied that every thing looked okay, I posted it. Only to cringe with embarrassment when I first read the posted product. My first sentence had a word missing!

Face Palm moment.

Of course one of the great things about WordPress is that we can always go back and re-edit our stuff after we’ve posted it. But that really isn’t what we should be doing. We should do a decent edit before we send our baby out to be read by strangers (and friends) who will most likely not be impressed by the fact that we cannot spell or write an intelligent  sentence.

I don’t read other blogs nearly as much as I should. I am, by my very nature, lazy. I only have so much energy and attention span available to me and I have to share it with everything from doing the housework to taping a video for YouTube. So in my mind three passes is the longest that I can take to edit my own written material.

But when I do read other blogs, I cringe when I see a barrage of misspellings and sentences that have great holes in them where a word should be. Now I will admit that I have an almost phobic distaste for writers who cannot get the difference between to, two and too. I also have real problems with those who cannot differentiate between their, there and they’re.

*My most cringeworthy moment came when I’d incorrectly used their instead of they’re. I was mortified.*

With the use of spell checker software that is available, not just on WordPress, but on every word processing software in the world, I find it inconceivable that these common mistakes still appear on people’s blogs and (I’m sad to say) their books. I know that I have not followed a blog that has been full of spelling mistakes and despite the content being fantastic, I couldn’t in all honesty follow someone who did not care enough about what they wrote to edit it properly.

Editing is boring and tedious. Why is this chap smiling.
Editing is boring and tedious. Why is this chap smiling.

Granted we are writers and not editors, the two things are not mutually inclusive. Being good at one does not automatically mean you are good at the other. But, and this is a big but, we have to make that effort. If we don’t take ourselves seriously enough to send out a polished product when we upload, how can we expect anyone else to. (and that is to not too or two)

And we do want to be taken seriously, don’t we? The blogging world is full of people who can write just as well as we can and a lot more folks who can write better.  A lot of successful bloggers don’t just add pictures and videos and GIF‘S (that’s for you Tyson) they add a professional touch that includes ruthless editing.

Editing Tips:

1) Try reading the blogpost in reverse order. It’s a lot easier to spot boo-boo’s that way.

2) Have a trusted person read the post. My daughter used to do this for me and me for her. It works.

3) Try reading the post out loud. A lot of times this will save you from making sentencing mistakes.

4) Leave your post alone for a bit. Go do something that is not writing related and then come back, the mistakes will sometimes leap off that page at you.

5) Take your time. There is no rush. No-one is breathing over your shoulder screaming hurry up.

6) Last one I promise. Try reading it in preview mode (WordPress). I find mistakes show more clearly on preview.

Now following these tips is no guarantee that your future blog posts will be mistake free. But they will go a long way toward making it read more smoothly and improving the look of it.

I do feel that standards are slipping. I’ve read no less than three Freshly Pressed articles that were “shot-gunned” through with misspellings. Great stories all, but to read? I kept stumbling over misspelt words and it took the enjoyment out of the article. Just as it takes the enjoyment out of posting my own articles and discovering that I’d either turned word-check off, or I hadn’t bothered to really edit properly.

Just things like using the wrong “tense” or the wrong adverb or adjective can throw the reader out of the moment or cause them to miss your point. This can lose you views, followers and the confidence you need to continue writing.

We owe it to the good people who take the time to read, like, or comment on our babies. More importantly we owe it to ourselves. Because  we are writers, damn it and we are proud of that fact.

Do you have any editing tips that work for you? If so, please feel more than free to share them. We’d love to hear them, I know I can use all the help I can get.

What we do.
What we do.
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