Never saw that coming. I don’t read horror novels; I don’t tolerate the whole genre well. (I tried to watch some of Halloween H2O when it played at the theatre I was working in – I lasted four not particularly terrifying minutes.) Prior to last week I’d read three of his books: Gerald’s Game, which I had to read for school (art school, that is: we had to do a cover for a Stephen King novel; don’t know how I chose this one), Rose Madder (did I get it from the library? I don’t own it…), and The Eyes of the Dragon. GG was a horror, all right – it was more years ago than I wish to acknowledge, and I still remember parts of it vividly, above and beyond the part I tried to illustrate. (Also, it was in this I learned “lefty loosy, righty tighty”. Seriously – never heard that before.) (ALSO, I think of it almost every time I hear The Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” – “they call me a space cowboy”. *shudder* It would be every time, but they play it so blamed often.) The dog … *hard shudder* But what I remember most was the surprise I felt at how good a writer King is. I had assumed he was to fiction what reality shows are to television: popular schlock. Well, there’s reality tv, and there’s reality tv; Survivor is several steps above, say, “The Bachelor”, and SYTYCD is miles above Survivor. And Stephen King has chops. Rose Madder was strange, and good, and I don’t remember it as well. Eyes of the Dragon, more on the fantasy end of the spectrum, was okay, not as good as I expected. I’ve been collecting the Dark Tower novels as I’ve come across them, and after recently reading a Buffy/Salem’s Lot fanfic crossover I decided I needed to see if I could manage his vampires. I haven’t gotten around to that yet.
But in the past few months I’ve seen King’s On Writing recommended a couple of times, by writers I have some respect for. Confession: when I saw the recs, my first puzzled thought is “who is Stephen King to be writing a book on writing?” But when I did my “I’ve got my income tax refund and dammit I’m buying books” thing this year it was part of the Amazon order. And wow.
The first half of the book is a memoir, skimming over his life from his birth, through his childhood raised by his mother, alone, to the time of the writing of the book, in the middle of which latter he was hit by a van and horribly injured (1999). At first I wondered about the purpose of the memoir. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but wondered. By the time I finished the book, it made perfect sense.
The second half of the book is about, as advertised, writing. What not to do, and what to do – and a permission slip to go and do it. Read and/or write 4-6 hours a day. Not easy with a full-time job and a mom to look after – but he knows that. It’s not like Malcolm Forbes wondering why people don’t try to find work they love; this is a man who started out washing hospital laundry and trying to feed two kids on very low pay.
The advice is solid. The toolbox metaphor is brilliant. Who is Stephen King to write a book on writing? Stephen King is a man who has sold more than 350 million copies of his books, who started from nothing and made himself an icon. And who is a pretty damn good writer.
“What is writing? Telepathy, of course.”
I never, ever looked at it that way.
This is what we’re looking at, and we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room … except we are together. We’re close.
We’re having a meeting of the minds.
And as valuable as the straightforward advice is, even more valuable is the feeling I came away from this book cherishing. It’s what the one really good teacher I can claim acquaintance with, Deb Simone of Paier College of Art, used to accomplish: that feeling of limitless space and the ability to achieve anything, the inspiration to move mountains, or at least molehills. To get out there and do something.
It’s motivation. It’s permission. It’s reassurance, and it’s a kick in the butt. It’s a slap on the hand (or a cuff on the ear) over committing some literary sins – and a high five over the shared concepts, the telepathy achieved.
Another reason to love the man: “King was quoted as calling conservative commentator Glenn Beck ‘Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.'” Oh, heart.