“Authors I Love” is going to be a regular feature on DNBRD.org, where Steve and I profile writers we absolutely adore. To kick off the series, I decided to focus on my favorite writer, Stephen King. I’ve written about Stephen King here before, albeit briefly, and I mentioned my love for him on my WPR appearance. I don’t think I will ever not love Stephen King, so this is probably just the first post of many in which I mention him.
I love Stephen King because he’s a fantastic writer who gets to the heart of human nature without getting sentimental or overly wordy. He can take a ridiculous concept, like a blob of unknown origin floating in a peaceful Maine lake, and weave into a story so scary that the first time I read it, I threw the book across the room. (That story is “The Raft,” and it is collected in Skeleton Crew.)
If I only liked Stephen King because he scared me, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. Plenty of authors have scared me before, but with only a few exceptions, none of them are particularly good writers. King knows how to get at the root of fear.
King uses an interesting writing device that acts as a signature. I refer to this as “the Stephen King thing,” as in, “So you know that thing that Stephen King does?” When one of his characters is thinking to themselves, he will often insert lines of italicized text that serve as interjections. It makes more sense in context. This example comes from “The Moving Finger,” in Nightmares & Dreamscapes:
“On this Howard’s two minds were united. He was, in truth, afraid that if he did not act fast–and keep on acting–he would not act at all.
And surprise it, if you can. Take off your shoes.
Howard thought this was an extremely useful idea.”
This device lets King convey the inner thoughts of the character without constantly writing, “Howard thought….” It lets the story flow more easily. Incidentally, the first time I read this story, my friend came up behind me to say hi, and I accidentally smacked her in the face because I was so keyed up.
Another reason to love Stephen King: the town of Castle Rock, Maine. This fictional town has been subject to evil clowns, mold that makes people eat cats, child murderers, and more. However, aside from all that, it seems like a nice little town. Here’s a map of Stephen King’s Maine. Every story of Stephen King’s that is set in Maine will most likely mention Castle Rock in some way, shape, or form. His newest novel, Under the Dome, is set in Chester’s Mill, Maine, the town to the northeast of Castle Rock.
I could go on and on about why I think King is a great writer, and why I think everyone should read at least one of his short stories, but I’ll leave it here. After the jump, I recommend some titles for people who might have never read anything by the Master of Horror. (Horror not for you? Never fear. King has written non-horror as well.)
The Green Mile — Most people have no idea that Stephen King wrote this powerful novel (that was made into an equally powerful movie). It’s the story of a prison warden whose life is drastically altered by a very strange convict.
Pet Sematary — No one wants to say goodbye to their furry friends, but burying them on sacred ground is not the best idea. This is one of my favorite King novels because a) it’s super creepy, b) the Ramones wrote the soundtrack for the movie, and c) it was inspired by a real “pets sematary” in Maine.
Cujo — Sometimes, Stephen King writes a novel under a certain premise, but is actually writing about something else. This is one of those novels. The premise (a dog uncovers something evil, goes insane, traps a woman and her son in their car) is scary enough, but then King digs into human nature and survival. That might be scarier than the dog.
Under the Dome — Don’t let the size (and weight) of this novel scare you away! It is a fast-paced, interesting look at what people do when they are trapped in one place with no promise of escape. Things turn sour pretty quickly.
I adore Stephen King’s short stories. He has a knack for creating little juicy bits of terror. Not all of his stories are scary, although there are quite a few “screamers” (as he calls them) in these collections. My favorites are “Rainy Season” (Nightmares & Dreamscapes), “Here There Be Tygers” (Skeleton Crew) and “The Mangler” (Night Shift).
On Writing: a memoir of the craft — If you love King’s writing as much as I do, or just want to learn more about his process, I highly recommend reading this book. It gives the reader a close look at a relatively private writer.