Friday , Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. ET

Lost Book Club: 'On Writing'

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Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly
washingtonpost.com Staff
Friday, January 16, 2009; 2:00 PM

Stephen King's "On Writing" was an instant bestseller; not only for the peek at the brain behind the modern master of horror fiction, but because of its invaluable advice on telliing a good story and telling it well. For this season's final installment of the "Lost" Book Club, we'll mine King's book for insights into "Lost's" storytelling.

We know the "Lost" writers have read it -- King's example of a writing exercise about a rabbit with the number 8 painted on its back was paid homage in season three when Ben Linus places a bunny painted with an 8 on Sawyer's chest. And as early as 2005, King publicly dared show runners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse to set a definite end date for "Lost." They did, the next (sixth) season will be the show's last.

Join Jen Chaney and Liz Kelly on Friday, Jan. 16 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss "On Writing" and the upcoming season premiere of "Lost."

Submit your questions, comments and convoluted theories either before or during the discussion.

For more "Lost," visit post.com's "Lost" Hub for show-by-show analyses,"Lost" Madness results and to review last year's book club selections.

Liz Kelly's day job is as Celebritology blogger, while Jen Chaney presides as Movies editrix. Both consider "Lost"-watching a passion.

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Liz Kelly: Afternoon and welcome to the last discussion in this cycle of the "Lost" Book Club. Thanks for reading along with us during this show hiatus and, if all goes well, we'll be back to reading again next August ahead of the final season.

This book may actually be one of the most important we've read together. It is no mistake that Stephen King can sell a book -- he's a master of story-telling. No other modern writer is capable of producing the range of reactions -- chills, horror, laughs, unease -- I've been forced to endure at the hands of King.

The mark of King's influence has been visible on "Lost" since nearly the beginning. The method of story-telling, using flashbacks to flesh out the story and making every detail count. "Lost's" writers and showrunners seem to have heeded King's criticism of fiction writers. In the beginning of "On Writing," King comes right out and says it:

"Fiction writers don't understand much about what they do -- not why it works when it's good, not why it doesn't when it's bad."

Judging from some of the ill-advised directions other TV shows have taken, we have to assume this applies to TV script writers as well. And other shows would do well to study up on their King, too.

"Lost" is a lot of things -- convoluted, dense, a little nerdy -- but it hasn't yet jumped the shark and, anticipating the next season as the last, it probably never will.

Anyhow, enough from me. I'm interested to hear what everyone else thought of King's book. Oh, and also, maybe we can use this hour to handicap the season premiere (next Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC) since we won't have a chance to talk again before it airs.

Jen Chaney: Liz pretty much summed that up nicely. And I'm all in favor of handicapping.

So without further ado...

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Telapathy and the Number 8: So this book is fantastic from start to finish. While I missed last month's book I devoured this and have to say the section with the rabbit on the table was such a great section. I agree about not coming lightly to the blank page....

His final chapters on his own life and the accident as well as the day he and his wife found out about Carrie are amazing survival stories.

As for "Lost" there is of course the bunny, but I do like how he lays out the elements of style and the idea of removing extraneous detail. I think since they've had an endgame that's how the story has been constructed. As clearly and with clear intent. I do like how to some extent they are trying to perform an act of telepathy -- knowing that while they are transmitting their own details us fans are reinventing and reinterpreting those details into what we think they mean....

Hope that makes sense. Cannot wait till next Wednesday!

Jen Chaney: Yes, I think the "Lost" writers are extremely conscious of fan reaction and how everyone will interpret certain moments and details differently. It's a weird symbiotic relationship. They know all of us are overanalyzing, and we know they know, so sometimes it's not clear if they are truly telling us something significant or just messing with our heads for fun.

Glad you enjoyed the book!

Liz Kelly: Yes, one thing we know about LindeCuse and the writers is that they pay close attention to message boards, blogs and even (ahem) fan favorite brackets.

Some might accuse them of being reactive -- they were quick to lower the boom on Nikki and Paolo when hardcore fans cried foul -- but I think it is actually a wise move. It gives them valuable insight into how their decisions are perceived once they take form on the TV screen and it gives us, the nameless mass on the couch, a sense of ownwership in the show.

Jen Chaney: And I also think it demonstrates a real Web savviness on their part. We live in an extremely reactive world when it comes to media and culture. And they get that in a way that perhaps other writers don't.

Of course, you don't want to be too reactive because then you run the risk of altering content purely to please the masses, something King cautions against. But I do not think they have crossed that line yet.

Liz Kelly: Agreed -- they listen, but they aren't shifting gear every time someone flames them on Lost Horizon.

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Springboro, Ohio: I know Stephen King is known as the kind of suspense and horror and I personally love his work. However, if you gals want to read a suspense thriller, pick up anything written by Jack Kerley and you won't be able to put it down. His work is so well written and spellbinding you 'll want to turn off all electronics so as not to be interrupted. I kid you not, his work is fabulous. Some smart someone should grab these books for screen rights.

I suggest you start with "The one hundredth man". Enjoy my friends. Jo Shepherd Ripley

Liz Kelly: Jack Kerley, everyone.

Jen Chaney: Thanks for writing in, Jack Kerley's agent!

(No, sincerely, thank you for the recommendation.)

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Washington: Jen, I just want to say that you should be proud of your dad, and don't listen to people who are calling him a terrible vice president. Also, it's good that he supported you in your lifestyle choice!

Jen Chaney: Dear sir or madam:

I trust this is the last time I will ever need to say this, after having uttered these two words numerous times over the past eight years: Different spelling!

My name is spelled like Lon's, not Dick's. As for my lifestyle, I am glad you agree that spending so much time obsessing about "Lost" is a brave, unconventional choice. Not everyone agrees with you. Some people think it's more appropriate to do the socially acceptable thing and obsess about "American Idol." I don't agree at all (not that there's anything wrong with it...).

Thanks for writing.

Sincerely yours,

Jen ChAney (with an "a")

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"Danse Macabre": I haven't read "On Writing," but I love King's "Danse Macabre," his first non-fiction book, part-memoir and part exploration of what scares us and why. A lot of what he talks about there -- especially how the boogeyman you imagine is almost always scarier than what you see when it finally shows up on screen applies to LOST. Look at the Smoke Monster. (Or the monster in the Abrams produced "Cloverfield.")

What do you think have been the scariest scenes so far on LOST? I think Ben showing up in Penny's Dad's apartment, and Roger's (is that his name?) cabin were both really creepy.

Jen Chaney: To the first part of your comments: that's very true about not seeing the monster. Any writer or maker of suspenseful films has that trick mastered. It's also the reason why "Signs" so didn't work for me. Because when I finally saw the alien, I was like: "Really?"

As far as scariest scene: Jacob's cabin is probably up there for me because it was so creepy and bizarre and "Twin Peaks"-y. "Twin Peaks" is perhaps the most frightening series that ever aired on broadcast television.

Liz Kelly: I agree re: "Twin Peaks," Jen. Though we all know that went downhill pretty fast once Leland Cypress was outed as the killer. All the suspense was gone.

As for "Lost," the same rule applies -- but the creepiest moment for me was in season 1 or 2, I forget which, when we saw just the lower third of ther Others -- dirty bare feet, threadbare clothing and a child carrying a ragged teddy bear. I'm getting chills just writing about it.

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Arlington, Va.: Are there other shows that draw so heavily on literary references?

Liz Kelly: Another early element of King's tips on being a writer is to not only write a lot, but also to read a lot -- and that's something "Lost" has hammered home again and again. Almost every show contains a literary reference or an overt mention or shot of an actual book. It's an unusual tack for a TV show to take -- it's almost like saying "Watch our show, but then turn off the TV and read, man, read!"

And for those of us who take that advice (or have been taking it since our parents and teachers said the same thing to us when we were young and impressionable), it is actually nice to have lit upon a TV show that internalizes the great books of the past.

I'm going on and on (which is totally against King's rules), but what I'm trying to say here is that reading and books make us better viewers as much as it makes "Lost's" writers better at what they do.

Jen Chaney: As for other shows that draw from literature, I immediately think of "The Wire" (which is a novel in itself). But I can't think of many where the books are so carefully, purposefully chosen and then analyzed by its fans. I think that's pretty unique to "Lost."

Liz Kelly: Clearly Jen is forgetting "Reading Rainbow."

Jen Chaney: Oh, snap! My apologies to LeVar Burton.

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Washington: I absolutely LOVE this chat.

My only question is, what is "Lost"? Is it a TV show?

Liz Kelly: Thanks for writing.

Jen Chaney: Wait, what's TV?

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dre7861: Years ago I was an avid Stephen King reader until I glutted myself on his works. I had forgotten what a good story teller he is! I think is my favorite read for this year's Lost Book Club.

I don't know about you two but I got a chill when King asked us to visualize a rabbit with the number 8 on it! In my mind's eye I definately pictured Ben, with his "awful eyes" holding that cage!

Jen Chaney: King is often understimated because he writes popular fiction. But I do think he is a gifted writer. Some of his short stories are especially strong, and have nothing at all to do with the horror genre.

As for the rabbit, I believe the "Lost" writers specifically put the rabbit in that episode as a shout-out to King. They have been very open about their admiration of his work. And I think -- Liz, correct me on this if I am wrong -- he may have consulted the writers on one or two occasions.

Liz Kelly: I think you're right, Jen. In fact, I believe he once wrote a column in EW about his visit to "Lost's" Hawaii set.

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New York, N.Y.: How do you think King would end the show? Didn't I read something in EW about how he said he would make the whole thing a hallucination from Jack?

Liz Kelly: Good question. Perhaps with a prom in which a bucket of blood is dropped on Kate's head?

Jen Chaney: That rings a bell, but I also think that interview -- if I am recalling the same one -- took place a couple of years ago. With all that has transpired since, that ending strikes me as too predictable now.

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Washington: I heard that Stephen King writes wearing a shirt but no pants, like Donald Duck. That could explain some things, vis a vis Lost.

Liz Kelly: If this was written by Gene Weingarten that would explain some things, vis a vis this question.

Jen Chaney: Wait, who let Gene start submitting questions? I thought we had blocked his access years ago!

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Somewhere, Ohio: Oddly enough, this is the ONLY King book/story/whatever that I haven't read. Even though I was supposed to for this chat. I don't know why.

I did watch the enhanced finale the other night and I'm still wondering about Jin. The final shot of him shows him running-ish toward the end of the boat. The final shot of the boat doesn't have him in it. And from the angle of the shot, he should have been there. Unless he made it off the boat.

We know that Daniel and the rest of the last Zodiac people got sucked up with the Island, even though they weren't physically on it, so why not Jin as well?

Anyway, I've got Battlestar tonight and Lost next Wed, oh with some sort of president thing in-between... A good 5 days.

Jen Chaney: A good but very busy five days indeed.

You raise an interesting question about Jin. Let me just say this: In the dueling analysis you will read come Thursday a.m., I lay out a little theory about Jin. I won't say more because I think it helps to see this season's premiere first. And also, because it's fun to say vague things without explaining them and then let people stew about them for the next five or six days.

Liz Kelly: Oh yes, there is some interesting stuff to discuss re: Jin come Thursday a.m.

As for the next week of good show watching, don't forget the return of "Big Love" on Sunday night.

Jen Chaney: Or the Oscar nominations on Thursday morning! The goodness never ends.

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re : " I'm getting chills just writing about it. ": Liz : I hope you're not coming down with a cold again...

Liz Kelly: Nope, quite healthy, actually. These chills are purely of creepy variety.

Jen Chaney: Speaking of chills, you should read Jeff Jensen's latest, as posted this week on EW. The bit at the end about Aaron spooked the living Dharma out of me.

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Bob: Did someone say Twin Peaks and the scariest thing on TV ever?

Liz Kelly: But the image alone doesn't convey the full creepiness; you need to also hear the demented laughter.

Jen Chaney: That, and see him peering out from behind a bed.

Kudos to David Lynch for recognizing that guy -- who was not an actor, just a member of the crew -- was scary as hell and should be in the show.

Liz Kelly: Have you ever seen/read a David Lynch interview?

The phrase "it takes one to know one" comes to mind.

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Obamaland, DC: Will you ladies be reviving the Lost post- episode deconstruction gab fest? If so, do you know the discussion time slot yet?

Liz Kelly: We will -- next Thursday at 3 p.m. ET. You can bookmark it now, even.

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skeptical in Ohio: Can the Lost writers really wrap this up neatly in season six as planned or will all the over-anal-yzers be upset because of supposed incongruities ?

Liz Kelly: From what I've seen of the season premiere, they're doing a fine job of tieing the various strands of the story into a cohesive, believable (as believable as a sci-fi show can be) package.

Trust me, there is a lot of skill there working on this and having a definite end date is a blessing to the writers. They have a goal towards which they can work, allowing them to pace out the rest of the story. They won't be forever trying to keep the story alive -- each season getting further away from the core story-telling engine.

Jen Chaney: I agree with Liz. But I also think there is a good chance all the overanalyzers will be upset. The show has been dissected to death, so much so that any ending might seem like a letdown at this point.

I anticipate a similar response to the one we saw with the "Sopranos" ending -- possible outrage initially, then a gradual acknowledgement that the finale was pretty darn smart after all.

That said, I do not expect the "Lost" writers to suddenly cut to black while Sawyer is eating onion rings and listening to Journey.

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So who's nuts now ?: Hey, didn't we have this out about Jin ? With Hurley and the wife in a flahback at Jin's grave that you all said was a "flash forward " which seemed fishy to me at the time but you all said I was nuts.

Jen Chaney: We still stand by the flash forward. What is unclear is whether Jin is dead.

The theory I will put out there about Jin is something completely different, though.

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Scariest Moments: At the end of Season One: "Just give us the boy."

Jen Chaney: Yes, that was chilling. And again, because you didn't know who that guy was exactly.

Now we all know he's just Tom the Gay Guy Who Hangs Out With The Others, Before Getting Killed by Sawyer. Which makes him less frightening somehow.

Liz Kelly: Also, Ethan when he kidnapped Claire.

Jen Chaney: You just think Ethan is scary because he's Tom Cruise's cousin!

Liz Kelly: That just adds to it.

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Chills: The scariest moment had to be Walt's abduction at sea. That image haunted me the entire summer. Freaky.

Jen Chaney: Yes, as mentioned earlier, it was definitely disturbing.

On the other side of that coin, one of the most touching scenes ever on "LOst" was also from the season one finale: When they finally launch the raft. And poor Vincent goes swimming off after Walt, then has to come back to land without his master.

The Giacchino music is what makes that so heartbreaking. That man is a master of tear-inducing.

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I am not giving up analog no matter what...: This is totally off subject but are there a lot of celebrity "Lost" watchers ? I'm terribly snobby and if Brad and Angie aren't watching then I'll be darned if I will.

Liz Kelly: Well, I'm not sure about the statistics here but I have heard that Jimmy Kimmel is reportedly a huge "Lost" fan.

Jen Chaney: True. So is Seth Rogen. And Kevin Smith. Liz and I also know that Zachary Levi from "Chuck" is a big fan because we talked about "Lost" with him at Comic-Con.

He pretended to be impressed by our "Lost" knowledge. It was lovely.

Liz Kelly: That's right. I forgot about Zachary Levi. He feigned fascination with one of my pet theories. And I tried to go on as long as possible to keep him in my general orbit.

You'll recall that Matthew Fox showed up at that same event and didn't condescend to speak to any of us press types.

Jen Chaney: Nope. Then he hid in a corner for the rest of the evening.

Such a bummer. On the plus side, he is just as handsome in person.

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Not to make this a Twin Peaks chat, but: I received the Gold Edition of the Twin Peaks DVDs and just finished the episode where Leland/Bob killed Maddy in his living room. I do remember someone quoting Stephen King as saying that episode was the most disturbing thing he has ever seen on network tv.

Jen Chaney: If King said that, then he is right. And numbers two through five also probably come from "Peaks," too.

P.S. Sorry to those of you who still plan to watch the show and didn't know who killed Laura Palmer. But really, it was more than 15 years ago, and I think that exceeds the statute of limitations on spoilers.

P.P.S. The woman in "The Crying Game"? She's totally a dude!

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King will never be considered a 'great' writer...: ...just because he writes horror/supernatural. Which is a real shame because he is an amazing writer. I've read everything he's put out, some of them more than once. I find the first half of his books to be the most enjoyable part because he is developing the characters and laying the base for the story, without getting into all the weird and gruesome stuff that fills up the second half of his books. The first half of The Stand is especially astounding. He has such a wonderful way with words and the snooty "I couldn't possibly read anything so pedestrian...they sell King books in airport gift shops for goodness sake!" crowd is missing out.

Jen Chaney: I will admit to being a little snotty when it comes to reading. I am always the person in book club who hated the book and everyone thinks is too picky and annoying.

But at the same time, I have never understood people who refuse to even consider reading something simply because it's a best-seller.

I have been meaning to read "The Stand" for years. I really hope to do that sometime soon. That book was a huge influence on the "Lost" writers. We haven't read it here yet because it's approximately 8 million pages long.

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Liz Kelly: Thanks to everyone for joining us today and for the past several months here at the Book Club. We'll be back next Thursday at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the season premiere.

Jen Chaney: We are so excited to get back into the "Lost" swing of things. Look for our analysis that Thursday a.m. as well.

And while we're promoting things, before we sign off I thought I'd point folks one more time to the NPR piece I recorded this week on "Lost" literature. You know, just in case you don't have enough to read, or enough "Lost" stuff to think about.

Also, look for a chart Liz and I did on "Lost" and TV time travel, which will appear in Sunday's Style section.

Amd see you here next week when (cue cheesy voiceover announcer voice) ... "Lost" ... IS ... BACK!

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