Rediscovering Stephen King

I’m still in an odd place where I don’t really know what to write about here. I think it might help remedy that if I can stop thinking of this as my “author blog” and just see it as my blog. I also think the creative part of my brain largely went into hibernation for the winter. It seems to be starting to awaken, as gradually and as grumpily as my box turtle, Matilda, as I try to prod her out of the hole she’s burrowed in and into the light.

My creative mind hasn’t been in total hibernation — and neither has Matilda; she wakes up a couple times a week to eat and bang around her terrarium before burying herself again. Similarly, my imagination has woken up a few times a week, long enough for me to bang out a few hundred words on my current novel before it slips back into slumber. I started in in January, hoping to have the first draft done by my birthday, but eking out time to write my fiction is as difficult as mustering up the energy has been. As of now, I’ve got about 5 chapters done, just short of 10,000 words.

What it is, by the by, is the follow up to Restless Spirits, tentatively titled Intruder. If you’re signed up to my mailing list, then you’ve already been shown the first chapter.

So as my creative brain is trying it’s best to drag its crusty self into the sunshine, I’ve been trying to feed and water it and give it vitamins and exercise to get it energized again. I’ve been doing this mainly by reading, and what I’ve mainly been reading is Stephen King novels.

I was a huge fan of Stephen King when I was a kid. We’re talking teen years, probably 13 or 14 to about 18, the ages they market YA to now, which is why I can’t get too bent out of shape when somebody complains about a YA novel having content that might be too mature for their 15 year old. I mean, I was reading The Stand at that age. The unabridged version, even. I loved many books before my Stephen King phase, and I’d done some creative writing by then (I actually think I wrote my first short story in first grade — it was about a sentient, anthropomorphic football, I think), but I think it’s safe to say that King was the author who made me decide I wanted to be an author, too.

Back then, it was all horror. I was a pretty big horror fan in general (that also went back to surprisingly (disturbingly?) early in my childhood), so King’s stories fit right in. In addition to The Stand, during those years I read It (or tried — I was too scared to finish it), Pet Semetary (ditto), ‘Salem’s Lot, Misery and, among others, Danse Macabre (not horror, but it was about horror, so that was alright; what wasn’t alright was my twelfth grade English teacher assigning us book reports on nonfiction and then sniffing haughtily when I turned in my paper, insisting that Stephen King never wrote any nonfiction and giving me an automatic F without even looking at the book). I devoured them every chance I got.

Once I got into college, I decided I needed to diversify my reading more, so I read less of Stephen King, and even less as I progressed through my twenties and into my thirties. The newer books I’d read, including Dolores Clayborne and Rose Madder, just didn’t pack the same punch for me, and I wasn’t sure whether I was just outgrowing him or he was losing his touch. At any rate, by the time I got around to picking up a beat-up copy of The Gunslinger at a used book store about four or five years ago, it had been years since I’d read any of his work, not counting On Writing.

I read it then, and I enjoyed it well enough, but as far as epic fantasy series go I was too mired down in one of my every-so-often rereads of  A Song of Ice and Fire to commit myself to another one. So it was another couple of years before I found the second book, The Drawing of the Three, at the same book store and gave it a read. Of course, that was around the time A Dance with Dragons finally came out, so I forgot about Roland and company for a while. Last year I picked up the third book, The Waste Lands, and added it to the big stack of paperbacks on my nightstand to wait until my life settled down enough to allow me time for leisure reading once again.

If you read my last book post, then you know getting through that big stack of books was one of my goals for the new year. I finally made my way through the stack to TWL last month. Since then, I’ve pretty much been on a Stephen King binge. I devoured The Waste Lands, and now I’m speeding my way through the fourth book, Wizard and Glass. In between (because I had to wait until the bookstore got a copy of book four in stock, and because it was already next in my big book stack anyway), I breezed through Stephen King Goes to the Movies, a collection of stories that have been adapted for the big screen. This includes 1408, The Mangler, Low Men in Yellow Coats, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption and Children of the Corn.

While I enjoyed the horror stories, particularly The Mangler (which reminded me a little of my short story Snack Machine), I’m finding that at this point of my life I much more enjoy his fantasy works and his more realistic dramas like Shawshank Redemption (in which the book’s narrator being described as a white, red-haired Irishman did not prevent me from hearing Morgan Freeman’s narration in my head as I read it). I particularly enjoyed Low Men in Yellow Coats, on which the movie Hearts in Atlantis is based, and which is part of the greater multiverse revolving around the Dark Tower.

I think what’s surprising me as I read these stories is the quality of the writing. I remember King being a great storyteller, but I don’t recall his prose being such a joy to read. It’s fairly straightforward, as he tends to get to the point and not linger more on description than he needs to, but at times it’s almost poetic without being flowery. The other thing is, although these stories still have their little moments of horror and squick and punches right to the gut, they’ve also got a lot of heart, and characters who are loveable despite being complex and complicated and at times downright despicable.

And that’s how, after a gap of more than a decade, I can go back to labeling myself a huge Stephen King fan. And now I’m going to go back to reading Wizard and Glass.

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