My Favorite Authors: Stephen King

Everyone goes through a Stephen King phase. A phase where the master of horror is the principle writer that one reads.

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The Creepy and Disturbed Stephen King

 

Everyone goes through a Stephen King phase.  A phase where the master of horror is the principle writer that one reads.

For me, that period coincided with my Isaac Asimov phase, which lasted from mid elementary school to late middle school.  King was the first author whose books I read because he wrote them, not because of the plot synopsis alone.

I still remember the first book of  King’s that I read: The Eyes of the Dragon.  I remember staying up into the early hours of the morning, reading a hardcover version that my mom had borrowed from the library (in fact, it was another Stephen King book, Skeleton Crew–with its picture of a wind-up monkey doll with cymbals on the cover–that was my first introduction to this man.  I had a friend named “Steven,” so I originally thought his first name was pronounced “Stefen.”  Luckily, my mom corrected me).  Reading it night after night, I finished the book in three or four days.

The Eyes of the Dragon wasn’t the first book of his that I wanted to read (that would be It, which had another great cover), but it was the first book of his that I was allowed to read.   I read it in the summer, between third and fourth grade.  Then, at the Young Authors/Readers Conference (YARC), my dad bought it for me in paperback.  That version is well-worn, for I read it multiple times.

I was very much attracted to horror as a child (perhaps because, in a world where bullies exist and our knowledge of the world is so limited, it is easy for us to believe that there’s SOMETHING OUT THERE, and we want to believe that we, too, may have special powers to use against the encroaching darkness).  I still am, though until I started reading H.P. Lovecraft recently (who knows why I waited this long to read him, but there you go), I hadn’t read a horror story for over five years.

If there is one thing that all of King’s books have in common, it’s that they build to a thrilling climax, often involving a rampage (Carrie, Firestarter) or the destruction of a town (It, Needful Things).  While the main source of evil in his novels is often of fantastic origin (aliens in The Tommyknockers, an ancient evil in It, an imaginary twin come to life in The Dark Half), his novels have also included less sensational but more realistic depictions of evil (alcoholism in The Shining, a rabid dog in Cujo, incest in It, bullying in Carrie).  And then, sometimes, he surprises us with his depiction of the human condition, as in Different Seasons (which includes “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” and “The Body,” which became possibly the two best movies based on his work: The Shawshank Redemption, and Stand By Me).

Like Lovecraft, his literary forefather, he created a town where most of his novels take place (Castle Rock, Maine).  Occasionally, this causes character overlap in his books (the sheriff in The Dark Half is the main protagonist in Needful Things, The Tommyknockers mentions the clown in It, the narrator in “The Body” compares the dog in that story to Cujo).  It also creates a world at once familiar and strange,  and one that contrasts a sleepy New England town with the evil in men’s hearts, and in things that are not men.

My one regret is that I have not read the one King novel that is held in the highest esteem by his fans and the critics.  That would be The Stand.  I also have not read The Dark Tower series, or much of his more recent work (except for On Writing, the most recent book of his that I read was Nightmares and Dreamscapes).

Besides providing enjoyment during that most critical phase of life called adolescence, King also figures  into my life in an important way: back when I was ten years old, I wrote him a letter, asking him for advice on writing.  While I received a form letter in reply, it was so hilarious that I didn’t mind.  Plus, someone had taken the time to type up his return address and my mailing address on the envelope, back when typewriters were the norm.  With the form letter was a copy of an article King had published in The Writer, called “Everything You Need to Know About Writing Successfully–in Ten Minutes.”

Then, when I was stuck on my novel, and had moved to Japan to reflect on where my life was heading, I read On Writing.  That book got me excited about writing again, and led to my rewrite of my novel, all from memory, all in longhand.  And while I am still writing that work, it is closer to publication than it would have been, thanks to Stephen King.

Recommended Reading:*

The Stand (yeah, I have to read it, too)

Night Shift (his first–and best–collection of short stories)

It (like The Stand, very long, but very VERY good)

Carrie (where it all began)

The Shining (I hate that wasp scene, but the book is great–and much different from the Kubrick film)

On Writing (a must-read for budding writers; a great read for everyone else)

The Eyes of the Dragon (for a more YA/fantasy side of King, and it’s illustrated!)

The Dead Zone (Here, the evil is human, while the supernatural element is for good.  Infamous for a scene in which a dog is killed.)

Needful Things (as advertised, the last Castle Rock novel, and a thrilling tale)

*I’d recommend most King books, especially the ones written when he was at the height of his popularity in the 80s, but this will give you a good idea of the master of horror’s range.

9 thoughts on “My Favorite Authors: Stephen King”

  1. “Needful Things” was my first(1995 – when I was 12 years old). Then I moved on to his other works. By the way, I was very, very disappointed by the movie based on that novel.

    I have recently finished reading The Dark Tower series. The ending is anti-climax, and I don’t think it is not his best, but the journey is nice as a whole.

    1. Yeah, I heard the movie version of Needful Things was a piece of crap. Very few King books became good movies. Among the good, I’d put Carrie, The Shining, Cujo, The Dead Zone, and Christine. Among the great, I’d put Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption (I have not seen Misery).

      He fared better with miniseries, though I felt that some of them lacked the emotional punch of the novels.

      You also should check out his short stories. He wrote some fine ones, especially in Night Shift.

      1. I read several short story collections of his – including the one you recommend. By the way, I made a mistake with the previous comment. Sorry. I should have written ” I don’t think it is his best”.

        LD: That’s actually how I read it. Your mistake didn’t register until you pointed it out. 🙂

  2. Hello again—first of all I double posted my first entry on your blog. I didn’t realize my first comment had been already posted, so I edited and re-posted again. Oh well, a bit of a waste of space, but I hope no problem.

    I loved Stephen King as well! And like you and many others I suspect read him on the cusp of, and early during, my teenage years. I went through a Frank Herbert craze about that time as well, have seriously enjoyed the Dune Chronicles.

    I seem to be the only person I know who thinks the novel “Carrie” still rates well in his cannon, even today. To my mind, the prose was feverish and full of powerful imagery while maintaining an elemental strength. Obviously it lacks some of the sophistication of his work in the immediate ten-twelve years following, but like I said, in my world the novel rates well.

    Otherworldly creations tend to be where my imagination runs well and with vigor. I guess that must be my vein of gold. I have a trench I’m working on currently.

    I tend to think that King’s material has taken a bit of a plunge in recent years. I found his short story collection, actually the last work I have read of him, “Everything is Illuminated” quite lacking, especially when I compared it to many of his earlier books. Sometimes I think he’s like a Goliath at the ends of his powers, but he still goes on. (On another, I hope this isn’t what happens to Roger Federer in the tennis world.)

    If you do get around to reading “The Stand” you might want to check out the complete and unabridged version.

    Lastly, as a fledgling writer, I don’t read half as much as I should. Do you ever have that problem—of the willing spirit and the weak flesh?

    Take care,
    FX

    1. Recently, I’ve gotten better about reading more. I still don’t read as much as I used to (I’m talking proper books, as I read a lot of blogs), but that has more to do with all of the other activities that now fill my day: the Internet, learning (or relearning) foreign languages, running errands to buy food and supplies, job hunting (or, when I have a job, working), meetup groups, movies, etc. But, in order to be a great writer, or even a good one, one must read and write A LOT. One reason I keep a blog is to keep myself in the practice of writing, though that writing is better served working on my novel, and best served doing both.

  3. I love Stephen King, been in love with him since college.
    I read how so many people think that his new books are not as good as his old ones. I’m not going to say the other way around…but even so, I enjoy his new books as much as his old ones. His latest, Under The Dome, in my opinion is one of his best works. Compare to IT and The Stand, I read Under The Dome the fastest among the thick books.

    For the Shining…I hate the kubrick version. Love the book a lot.

  4. I think that SK relation to the crossover of characters in his books, even with similar settings as the resource for his talent. Even making the area he lives in Bangor not seem like such a boring place to live. I think that everyone seems to discover SK in those early tween years as a means of acting out against the norms of society–well at least for me, reading SK was a means for me to rebel against my holier than thou slash hypocritical parents whom scorned me for reading SK rather than the ‘good book.’ I also agree with you in that his latter works are not as good. I stopped reading SK after ‘Rose Madder,’ which he also referenced in his other books, was about an abused housewife that escaped the abuse of her husband only to find herself being able to escape in a painting. Really great story.

    Enjoyed the post as well, thank you for the reminisces.

    LD: You’re welcome 🙂

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