Thursday, July 21, 2011

An Apology to Stephen King

Back in junior high school, when I first saw classmates carrying black-covered mass-market copies of King's novels, I thought too scary for me. I was the kid who had nightmares just watching a Friday the 13th trailer on TV.

In high school, I took the snobbery approach. Yes, even then I thumbed my nose at "mass market trash". My buddy Ken read about a book a day during school and would relay the plot to me over a Dairy Queen cheeseburger that evening. He always hit the sensational parts of King's plots, the sex and the murder.

I didn't pick up a Stephen King novel and devour from beginning to end until I read 'salem's Lot three years ago. The man is a genius. My high school self? Not so much.

I'm now reading On Writing. There are sections which make this English teacher say "well, duh" (of course, not everyone is an English teacher), but the book is brilliant. Even better than the "how to write" portion, in my opinion, is the first section--C.V. It's a compact biography of King's life up through the mid-eighties.

To me, it reveals how an author is formed. King doesn't pull punches. He doesn't candy-coat or whitewash anything.

So Mr. King, as if you need an apology from this hack, I'm sorry for my teenage snobbery. The high school me didn't know what the hell he was doing. Most days, I still don't.

But I will keep trying.

17 comments:

AnthonyJRapino said...

Oh no, you were *that* kid? ;-)

On Writing is brilliant. I agree that the first part is the best. My teacher side also looks at the "on writing" stuff and shrugs a bit, but hey, it's nice to reinforce that stuff.

King was my first taste of horror, and one of the masters in my opinion. I've still yet to read a horror novel that even comes close to his level of characterization.

Amanda C. Davis said...

Oh, I was one of them too. I didn't read a Stephen King novel until Eyes of the Dragon in eleventh grade. "Wow," I thought, "it's almost like he wrote this because he wanted to instead of for the money," which was a distillation of my father's opinion of pop culture, I realized later. And then I didn't read another until I got to college and found his entire collection up for grabs in the community library, and hey, it was more interesting than doing homework, and I cleared the shelf. And that is how I learned not to begrudge commercial success. Because darn it, that man DESERVES to be a bestseller. He writes the best characters and dialogue I've ever seen. His short stories are small miracles. Even his misfires are reliably engaging and memorable.

In sum: idiotic high-school snobbery, I has it. But I got better.

Chadwicked said...

I've read Misery and managed to thumb through a number of other King's novels and stories, and despite my love for horror, I'm still not a fan. I respect the man, but I'm not whole-heartedly impresses. I mean, I love any number of the movie adaptations (Misery being my favorite . . . and William Goldman is genius), but there's just something about Stephen King's writing that I can't sink my teeth into. Perhaps I just have to pick the right novel? A number of friends have recommended the Dark Tower series . . . maybe someday.

Rabid Fox said...

Ah. I can kind of relate to this. I read IT in elementary school with friends, but didn't really read his work religiously until about ten years ago. The Dark Half is what brought me back to reading.

I'd go back in time and give my child self a King novel if I could.

James Everington said...

Aaron have you tried Dance Macabre, his other non-fiction one? It's a discussion on the horror genre - books, films and other gubbins.

Slightly dated in that it was written early 80s I think, but still brilliant and required reading for any horror writer in my opinion. It helped form a lot of my intellectual ideas about horror - hell, it probably was the thing that made me realise you *could* have intellectual ideas about horror.

I first read it when I was about 17, and even all these years later I still find myself thinking about it when I sit down to write.

author Scott Nicholson said...

Good post, Aaron. I put off reading King because all my friends liked him and I always go against the crowd. Well, until I tried to BECOME King like all the other writers I knew...

Scott

Barry Napier said...

Yeah, I picked up Night Shift when I was in middle school and was blown away. The first on his novels I read was Misery (amazing) followed by It (best horror novel on the last 50 years IMO).

Don't worry...I'm sure he understands. King himself has referred to his work as "the equivalent of a literary mudpie."

Michael Stone said...

The only thing better than reading On Writing is listening to the audio version, read by Mr King himself. It's fantastic.

Milo James Fowler said...

I started reading King almost 5 years ago with The Gunslinger. Instant fan was I.

Danielle Ferries said...

My first Stephen King novel was Misery, shortly after it was released, and then I proceeded, over the years, to buy every one of his books. I think he is brilliant too.

Natalie L. Sin said...

I got the first Stephen King book I ever read at a church tag sale : )

Cathy Webster (Olliffe) said...

I've loved Stephen King since I got too old for Nancy Drew. Bag of Bones is my favourite. Literate and terrifying all at the same time.

Laurita said...

Seems we both have Stephen King on the brain this week. I love all his work, but I'm a huge fan of his shorter stories, which are phenomenal.

Cindy Little said...

Love King! He is one of my favorite authors! I too, was like you when I was younger and thought he'd be way too scary, but my sister-in-law recommended Bag of Bones, which got me hooked. I read On Writing many years ago and loved the practical, easy to read advice. Good stuff.

S. Williams said...

Cool post Aaron
I was always a fan but that book increased my admiration tenfold. And not because of the how-to on writing (which is great) but like you stated the beginning. A great book for wanna be writers and folks with no desire to write.

Daniel W. Powell said...

I think King is about the best yarner out there. I've been reading his stuff since I was about ten, and I love his approach to voice and pacing. He's at his best in the short form, stretching through the novella.

And he is a cool guy. I like his politics (generally) and his nonfiction is very good. Danse Macabre and On Writing are books I frequently dip into for teaching and scholarly writing.

Hope you guys had a great vacation, Aaron!

Katey said...

My dad gave me my first Stephen King book when I was like 13. I fell so hard. Had nightmares and still read more the next night.

Which is its own brand of total idiocy >.<

On Writing is amazing. Some of it is definitely no duh, but... yeah. Most of it, I needed to hear. So bad. <3 it.