As a belated Halloween post, I thought that paying homage to the Master of Horror, Stephen King, seemed fitting for one of his constant readers. Maybe not consistent in the amount of books I have read over time, but definitely in my dedication to his work. It was only after reading this wonderful post What Stephen King Isn’t by Joshua Rothman from The New Yorker that I truly realized why I love Stephen King so fiercely.
He is not simply one of the best American horror writers to earn his way onto the shelves and into the Kindles of thousands of people. King is one of the best American authors of our time, and to the dismay of plenty of critics, I am not the only one to think so. Although book sales cannot always tell you the quality of an author’s writing, how does one deny the 60 awards won over a forty year period and over 350 million books sold? With three bibliography pages on Wikipedia: one for novels and collections, one for his individual short stories, and one for his unpublished works, you can imagine how hard this amazing man has been burning the midnight oil to make his masterpieces.
So someone in the world has felt the good sense to keep publishing him to build a colossal fan base of what? Horror fans? Speculative fiction maybe to generalize? He gets the nick name Master of Horror, but to his constant readers he is so much more than the author of spine-tingling supernatural thrillers that defy the laws of the known universe.
In the recent interview with Parade magazine (which I fervently read through at my parent’s kitchen table), King reiterates my point, “I’ve been typed as a horror writer, and I’ve always said to people, “I don’t care what you call me as long as the checks don’t bounce and the family gets fed.” But I never saw myself that way. I just saw myself as a novelist” (A Rare Interview with Master Storyteller Stephen King). He doesn’t see himself as anything more than man with a story (or hundreds) that he hopes to share with people who will love them as much as he does.
As a “greenie” to the world of Stephen King, I feel in love with his ability to write anything and everything. He has earned the right to at this point in his career, which not many contemporary authors can claim because let’s face it- if you get one good book that’s mildly popular that is a success. For King, he has made miracles come from the imagination that has inspired dozens of movie and television show adaptations including recent ones like Under the Dome and Haven.
Besides the horror elements that made his initial stories famous, King transcends all genre as you will read in Joshua Rothman’s post. I will let him describe the SK phenomena in his own way, but I will touch upon it in my short review of two of King’s recent books.
Joyland is a refreshing breath of carnie air, complete with the lingering scent of salty sea air and stale popcorn. King, as if on cue, finds the perfect story to bring the best parts of summer bliss back into our lives. Who doesn’t want teenage romance, a forlorn female ghost, and a crew of lovable amusement park employees that treat the “greenies” or new employees with a little rough and tough love? I do! And after reading Joyland (and other pieces) I could never imagine King as JUST a horror writer. In some ways, it limits readers to view him only as a writer of killer clowns and raging, possessed cars. Joyland has some gruesome scenes, but nothing that screams horror.
Instead, I felt myself pining for the romance he was building slowly with the subtle actions of the characters and unique, direct style of his writing. And let me tell you, I did NOT anticipate or hope for romance in a book with murder, amusement parks, and ghosts, but King made me want it. The main character, Devin Jones, is 21, and like any young adult thinks of love even without trying. King leaves the characters to do most of the work, and yet his ideas if tried by anyone else would turn out as a hodgepodge of genres that should never belong together.
Joyland is a blast from the past that combines the yearning of a romance, the deduction of a murder mystery, and the subtlety of a supernatural story that will leave any reader laughing or crying by the end. It is a quintessential King novel because it uses the supernatural to elevate the truth of the human psyche. He knows what we want to read, and writes the story we need to hear. Most importantly, King is in the business of selling fun!
I finished Joyland about a week ago, on audiobook, which is well worth the money, the reader is FANTASTIC! Afterwards, I was so inspired that I went back to 11/22/63 that had been out for two years, and I was about 50 pages from the end. It took me two years to read this monster of a book because it was characteristically long for King books, but even more so because I didn’t want to know the end.
King introduces an age old question of what would happen if someone could go back in time and CHANGE history. It’s difficult to understand time travel in a theoretical sense; add a lovable main character with a hero complex and presto you have the makings of a wonderfully adventurous. 11/22/63 is another of King’s recent works that succeeds with a believable love story-of an English teacher from 2011 and a librarian of the 50s. Is there boat loads of gore and supernatural elements? Well, sure. You can’t have time travel without the repercussions, but what is really comes down to is a well-written, well-researched historical novel that uses the best imagination in all of us to answer what would happen if someone went back in time and saved John F. Kennedy.
There’s hope, guilt, history, patriotism, and an overwhelming feeling that just once everyone lives (ten points for any blogger who points out where that phrase is from). In the end, King wraps up the story as though there is no other way it could have ended. The balance of the world is restored, and the reader, who has ridden on this whirlwind of a story, is faced with one honest, human reality. The past has a nasty way of happening no matter what you do to change it. Instead of trying to fix it, sometimes the best way to change the past is to learn why it happened.
In the collective ten hours over the past week that it took to research and write this post, I have fallen more in love with King and his writing than before. I spent all yesterday and today watching videos of this ordinary man, and found a foul-mouthed, experienced writer that simply loves books. I won’t try to place him on a pedestal, but the man deserves credit for everything he’s done. Not only that, he has stayed the same humble, book worm that picked up Lord of the Flies and landed in a fictional world that he has never left.
To me, Stephen King is more than a popular author, more than a very successful author. He is the hope that my ideas, my imagination can mean something to someone else if I work hard enough. He transcends genre by combining elements and characters that no one else could make work. He believes in his stories, in the ideas that come to him in the motel, the drive home, or in a dream. Stephen King represents the dreams of every writer to be more than the picture on the book jacket. A man that is willing to read 50 shades of gray and find something positive to say about it, has to be brilliant or a complete psycho. Either way, I suggest if you haven’t given the King a chance–try again. Ask me for suggestions, check out his website and find something that interests you. There are hundreds of stories to choose from, and King does not discriminate genre. He has a little bit of everything for the reader willing to open him/herself to be captivated by this everyday, extraordinary author.
P.S. There is a website that uses a statistical analysis tool to analyze your word choice, writing style and compares it to famous authors. Out of the five chapters I placed in this statistical tool, 3/5 came back as Stephen King. If that isn’t proof of how influential he is not only in my current manuscript, but my writing in general, I don’t know what is.
If you feel compelled to put each chapter of your current WIP, blog post, or journal–the link is below: