Stephen King is the market leader of terror

Just as a forewarning, the following blog is about the master of horror, Stephen King. But you should have a preface before I dive right into him.

Here goes: A joy in my life is the discovery of a new television series.

Netflix, Hulu and Amazon have a lot to do with that. Of late, these three online options deliver some of the finest TV I have ever seen. These days, I prefer this to watching a television series over a movie (Mad Max: Fury Road, aside, of course), as story arcs and content seem fuller and the options are plentiful.

One golden nugget is the series 11.22.63, which you can view on Hulu, based on the novel with the same title by, you guessed it, Stephen King.

Stephen King
The Stephen King series you need to watch.

Stephen King is the market leader when it comes to horror fiction, and has been so for a very long time.

Seriously, this guy nails the creepy and twisted. Take 11.22.63.

Nobody can copy Stephen King, ever.

(SPOILER ALERT)

11.22.63 could have easily been the fourth installment of Back to the Future. But it’s not. That’s because it came from the mind of King.

James Franco’s character, Jake Epping, is shown a portal into the past, which is located in the closet of a diner, by his friend Al Templeton (played by Academy Award winner Chris Cooper). Epping is encouraged to go back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Thing is, he is quickly engaged by zombielike characters telling him “You don’t belong here.” And gets tangled up in brutal family drama, murder, gambling, butchery and a host of other subplots that King weaves together.

When you are dealing with a market leader, like King is with thriller, you tend to find a lot of copycats (just look up and down the thriller aisle at Barnes & Noble). Many simply don’t know how to stand out so they just do what the market leader is doing. This is a horrible strategy.

Think about how many times you may have heard or read, “so-and-so is the next Stephen King”? What a futile state to be in.

The truth is this: there will only ever be one Master of Horror, Stephen King.

The legacy of Harper Lee

Last week, America lost a literary icon. Harper Lee, the author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, died at the age of 89 in Monroeville, Alabama.

Harper Lee
Harper Lee became a legend with only one book.

Her first novel, published in 1960, has left an indelible imprint on our culture — it did for me — as it magnified both the disparities and injustices with race and class, and highlighted gender roles prevalent at the time.

In a perfect world, Lee’s legacy would have ended there, perhaps punctuated with the 2007 Presidential Medal of Freedom award. That’s not a bad send-off. But instead, among rumors of declining health and pushy publishers, the author agreed to the release of the sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, entitled Go Set a Watchman.

There’s been a lot of speculation about Lee’s second release. Some said her health created a level of incompetence that prompted a willingness to sign-off on Watchman. I can see that.

The book, which centers on a 26-year-old Scout encountering bigotry in her hometown, was generally panned by critics. Most of that is due to Scout’s father, the immortalized Atticus Finch. In the second installment, he was portrayed as a racist. Many felt that the book was incomplete, and that it wasn’t ready for the masses and more of a first draft. I wish it wasn’t ever published.

Has Watchman tarnished the brand of Harper Lee?

The release of the Go Set a Watchman brought this question to mind, and sadly, I feel it rings true.

Lee was 87 at the time of the book’s release. You just can’t pay me to believe she was pining for another big-time release, especially with 54 years having passed since the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. It surely seems like she was pressured into a release that could (and did) bring a lot of other people a bunch of money.

Whether or not my speculation is true, what is true is that the release of Watchman tarnished the perfection of what was an flawless first statement. The mystique surrounding Lee was derailed.

Look at it another way. Brand anthropology means finding “what the target audience believes.”

Prior to the release of Watchman, the connotative beliefs about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird were bountifully positive. She was a legend, who had one perfect book in her. That’s all she needed as there were a lifetime of lessons in it.

Lee’s publishers should have been cognizant of this (because everyone else was) and never, ever, ever, ever pushed a legend into a decision that wasn’t right. Because anything else was against the grain of that perfection.

I am doing my best to forget the mistake of Watchman, but I don’t know if I ever will.

Amazon reviews: Fact or Fiction?

Here are two of my favorite things to do, as I am lay awake in bed:

The first is to visit the Amazon App on my iPad and check out the “Deals of the Day.”

While the deals aren’t anything to write home about most of the time, there are those rare occasions when a gem is unearthed. Like the time I found the Blu-Ray version of Interstellar at a fraction of the retail price.

What do we find on Amazon? Comedy.
What do we find on Amazon? Comedy.

The second is to read the Amazon Unlimited book reviews.

If you have never taken the time to compare a one-star or five-star review, you should. They are almost as entertaining as any of the unlimited books being offered.

Take this five-star review: “You’ll find yourself holding your own breath, as this sharply written novel veers from a casual stroll to its all-out, ragged breath pursuit of the conclusion. Masterfully put together and almost impossible to lay aside until (regretfully) you come to the last page.”

Compared to this one-star review for the same book: “Glad it was free through kindle unlimited, I got to chapter 10 and was yawning up a storm. Maybe it gets better but I gave it enough time. Boring describes it well.”

 (For those on Twitter, follow the hilarious account at @AmzonMovieRevws, which does the same for customer movie reviews.)

Can we believe the Amazon reviews?

I only trust the two to four-star reviews but Amazon hopes you can believe them all.

That’s why I’m not surprised that Amazon has recently sued 1000 fake reviewers. This particular crackdown centers on people seeking money in exchange for a positive review (for as little as $5). Thing is, vendors can still ask friends to rate them favorably and review their own products as another user.

Sometimes, though, there are flaws in a system that won’t ever get fixed. And the product reviews on Amazon are one of those flaws we are stuck with.

Will tainted reviews keep us from using Amazon?

Not a chance.

Amazon offers everything, all of which you can order in the convenience of your home. Nothing beats that. That’s also why Amazon has crashed the retail industry.

My thoughts on Amazon reviews are this: When we visit Amazon, we already know basically what we are going to buy. We are simply choosing the cheapest way to have it arrive on our doorstep. Remember, with Amazon Prime, there is no shipping and handling. That’s important to a lot of people. It is for me.

For most, the reviews are meaningless, unless that product has unanimously negative reviews. Ultimately, those are superficial anecdotes to a process we would be completing regardless of their presence.

Or, if you’re like me, they serve as some light-hearted entertainment at the end of a busy day – and demonstrate that the Amazon brand is more powerful than the reviews included on its site.

Go Set a Watchman, explaining the outrage

I can understand the outrage but I’m waiting until I read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman before I make a judgment.

As you may have heard, Lee’s follow up to her classic To Kill a Mockingbird will be released tomorrow amid reviews that state that the newest book, taking place years later after Mockingbird, portrays Atticus Finch as a racist.

Atticus is a racist?
Atticus is a racist?

When I first heard that I was aghast. Finch is simply one of the most revered characters in the history of American Literature. Portraying him as a racist is like turning T.S. Lawrence into a Turk. This cuts deeply.

There’s a simple reason for all the outrage. It goes against our beliefs.

To Kill a Mockingbird might be my favorite fiction book of all time. (I’d also put Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove right up there.) There are several reasons for it, among them being the love/hate portrayal of small-town Alabama that’s as vivid as anything put to paper.

And there is Atticus, who stands as the epitome of virtue and tolerance. Even when he loses to the case of defending a falsely accused black man of rape, a member of the black congregation tells Scout, Atticus’ daughter and the narrator of the book, to stand because “your father’s passin’.”

It’s one of the most moving passages I’ve ever read.

Betrayal or genius?

The anger toward the new book grows from a feeling of betrayal of our deep-rooted belief system (in Atticus Finch) by saying that belief was wrong.

When you think about that in terms of brand, that’s the reason why we say align your brand with an existing belief in the market. Trying to introduce a new belief that goes against what is already believed is a struggle that’s impossible to overcome.

That’s where Go Set a Watchman stands now. It is going against a belief that is among our greatest American myths.

In truth, Lee’s father, of whom Atticus is based, was a segregationist and only later became a supporter of integration, according to Lee’s biographer.

Go Set a Watchman, written years before To Kill a Mockingbird, was no doubt Harper Lee’s reaction to her father’s then-held beliefs. That its publication arrived decades after the success of Mockingbird makes Atticus’ original belief all that more shocking.

There’s a part of me that suspects the new book could be a strong statement against racism by using one of our most beloved characters to wake us up. That’s a fine genius.

But the outrage shouldn’t be a surprise to publishers and they were naive if they thought it wouldn’t spark an outcry. Go Set a Watchman is going against an American belief, and it’s hard going against that.