Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Surprising Stephen King

I hate horror. I hate haunted houses and scary movies and even creepy campfire stories. If the concept behind a horror flick looks so amazing and interesting that I just can’t miss it, I’ll read the plot synopsis online instead. I was going to start this entry with a gruesome horror-themed picture, but I didn’t want to have to look at one for more than a few seconds.

I also went to grad school to study Renaissance literature, which makes some people assume that I’m obsessed with Shakespeare (true), that I’m picky about the quality of what I read (true, and much worse after grad school), and that I only read the classics (very false).

Which is why it may seem weird that I love Stephen King. 

I initially had no interest in him, and then I only read his books that were dystopian or science fiction rather than horror, like Firestarter and some of the Richard Bachman stories. (If you liked Hunger Games, check out The Long Walk and The Running Man.) 

Dark Tower Art from
Years later, thanks to my husband’s large King collection, I branched out and read some that actually qualify as horror: Misery, The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot... I’m still too much of a wuss to read Cujo or IT (because I already have dog issues and I have no desire to develop clown issues), but for the most part I found I didn’t mind the horror and the ickiness much because everything else was surprisingly good. King has an incredible knack for developing characters and capturing how they interact within their families and communities (you know, before they end up dead and mangled somewhere). I was already becoming a King fan when my husband and his best friend finally convinced me to read The Dark Tower saga, even though I told them that I didn’t like Westerns and that I didn’t have time to start such a gargantuan series.
Not only are the characters amazing and the plot suspenseful and the writing clever and etc. etc.… The series essentially links every other book he wrote. The connections blew my mind. I would occasionally just need to close the book and reflect on how King is an epic world-building genius.

(And yes, he does some strange and self-indulgent material near the end of the series, but if he needed to include _____  in order to finally bring the series to a close, I’m okay with it.) 

Alright, so why I am telling you all this, other than possibly overcompensating because I feel bad that I ever believed King's hack reputation?

First, so that I don’t need to go into this introduction again when I do some Reading For Writing entries on King books. 

Second, and way more importantly, STEPHEN KING IS WRITING ANOTHER DARK TOWER BOOK. It will fit between books 4 and 5 and explain what happened to the band of travelers between the Emerald City and the Calla and I AM SO EXCITED! You can read the announcement letter here.

And third, one of the books that really converted me to King is On Writing, which is a fascinating mini-autobiography and very helpful writing book all in one. I would tell everyone to go and buy it immediately, but you can first try to win it on Christine Tyler’s blog if you enter by Friday. 

Go go go!


  1. Oh, pleasant surprise to see you linked me! Thanks! I remember I started reading "Christine" in highschool, and there was a line about a geeky guy. It went something like, "He was one of those guys who was always home--f*cking always."

    I think always was italicized. Oddly enough, that stuck out to me as such a good detail. Brilliant hermits are often shown at home in books or movies, but here was another character pointing out the fact that, day or night, rain or shine, he knew this kid had so few friends, and so many personal little endeavors, that he'd be home at any given moment.

    That was the first time I stepped back and went, "Oh man, Stephen King is a good writer," and I think that was on like, the third page.

  2. No problem - wish I had more readers to send your way!

    I remember reading the dark character sketches in 'Salem's Lot and wanting to yell "I don't like undead creepiness, I don't care about vampires, and this was only your second novel...WHY IS IT SO GOOD?" It's amazing all of the telling details that hide under the death, suspense, and bodily fluids.