When people hear the name STEPHEN KING, it's usually with a kind of god-like awe--his books permeate our popular culture. Cujo--amazingly scary tale about man's best friend; Christine--loved how creepy Arny got in that book; Carrie--cult classic for prom night and beyond; Pet Cemetary--spooky with a capital "S"; and the list goes on and on, and on and on, and on and on--heck, KING is really the KING of late twentieth and early twenty-first American literature. He writes like the devil, too! Oh, and about the devil...but you know--the devil is in the details so I suppose that all makes sense.
I used to say that to my students: "The devil is in the details and when you're writing, it's okay to be a satan worshipper." It was said in humor, of course--but there is truth to it. The turn of phrase came to life because it is the very DETAILS in life (and writing) that make it oh-so sinfully delicious. If you were to eat a meal that had no seasoning--aka no details--it would be bland, tasteless. Yes, it would still have nutritional valuem but you'd be left feeling somewhat unsatisfied. This is what I admire about KING's works--his details make what would otherwise be considered fantastical storylines, BELIEVABLE. That's why they're scary, you know--you BELIEVE that it's possible for an abused recluse who's been tormented by her peers with red paint to go mad, her mind making everything and everyone EXPLODE. KING should have been a lawyer because he is VERY GOOD at casting shadows and doubts in people's minds....
So when I picked up King's "Memoir of the Craft," ON WRITING, I was thinking of him as a somewhat reclusive if not brilliant writer from Maine who mainly dealt with things a psychologist might categorize as exaggerated phobias. But when I put the paperback down again, my eyes had been opened--the "true" KING revealed.
If you're a writer, want to be one, looking for inspiration, or are just curious about this KING of popular culture, read the book--like KING himself, it will not disappoint. If you're already a writer and don't write everyday, you may feel a twinge of guilt...but no disappointment.
About a year or so ago, KING gave an interview and was quoted as saying that Stephenie Meyer couldn't write in comparison to JK Rowling. I referred to this in Chapter Eighteen of Twilight & Philosophy. Both Meyer and Rowling are the top two breakthrough literary artists of teen fiction for the twenty-first century. Heck, JK made reading cool again! And Stephenie Meyer continued that cool factor with her Twilight saga. It was only natural for the interviewer to ask KING about the greatest literary breakthroughs since, well, KING himself.
I'm a student of literature, and have been my whole life. One of my clearest childhood memories was how I deciphered my first words, "D-U-N-K-I-N D-O-N-U-T-S" (it's true) and reading, really reading for the first time "Bears on Wheels," a book I'd patiently studied each day as a method of mastering those fascinating little symbols all along the bottom of the pages. I've always been gifted at language--and can speak five today. As soon as I could read, I began to write. By the time I was six, I had a whole collection of short stories that I painstakingly copied and began selling door-to-door for ten cents a piece. Rowling has a similar stoery--having written her first book at a rather tender age as well. KING also found his gift for the pen early in life, too. And you can see it--in Rowling and King's diction, in their careful story-arcs, in their DETAILS...but it's different with Stephenie Meyer's works.
Meyer tapped into a collective unconscious in twenty-first century audiences--not by her talent for language--but by her talent for deciphering what will sell. It's a handy talent to have. There are a multitude of talented writers out there--some of whom, will never get the recognition they deserve simply because their work can find no audience. Herman Melville's Moby Dick is a GREAT example of this. His travel writing like Omoo and Typee sold tons of copies to an eager Victorian audience. When Moby Dick hit shelves, Melville's popularity hit bottom. He dies working on a shipping dock in NYC. Herman Melville--the man who wrote THE great American novel! Moby Dick only gained its audience some 70 years AFTER Melville's unfortunate demise.
Stephenie Meyer is very lucky--if you go into any Barnes and Noble or Borders, you'll find a littany of vampire-related teen fiction--including LJane Smith's Vampire Diaries (now a hit TV show on the CW)--which has an uncanny similarity to Meyer's work except it was written over a decade before Twilight ever hit shelves. But the differences are what ultimately made the difference in the almost instant popularity of Meyer's work: Perfectly hitting the pre-teen pop culture nerve--Edward. Imminently relatable, ever the Jane Austin-esque bad boy, her tall, dark and brooding hero gave scores of tweens and teens (and those of us even older than that...) something to drool about: Romantic love without the sex. Who knew that the crux of the one of the greatest teen fictions of our times would have a Mormon nugget of truth? The whole thing is a remarkable phenomenon this seasoned English professor and writer has put a great deal of thought into--maybe too much.
So when I read KING's interview, I HAD to include it somewhere in my own book about Twilight. And the thing is, though I admire and respect Meyer, I agree with KING. In terms of literary style, Meyer sinks where Rowling soars. Rowling has her speed bumps--all writers do--she can be long-winded and gives the distinct impression after say, book four in her Harry Potter series, that she knows she can write anything she wants, and it will sell--no matter what. But Meyer's work transcends established criteria for "good" literature. Think about Faulkner--As I Lay Dying is, in the title alone, a grammatical nightmare. And yet, he won the Nobel Prize as one of the most gifted writers of the twentieth century. I'm not comparing Faulkner to Meyer--my point, and I believe KING's point as well--is that "good" writing is in the eye of the beholder. There are literary greats like Shakespeare, Hemingway, O'Connor, that simply can't be denied. But one does not have to be a Shakespearean-talent to sell books. One day, someone will be writing about the Herculean talents of being a Meyer-esque writer--it will mean someone who can create the PERFECT fantasy for her audience, someone who knows EXACTLY what the audience wants and needs...and can give it to them. I know I can't do that. When I write, I write what works for my own context, an admittedly erudite platform that doesn't appeal to everyone. Twilight, however, does.
Not even Rowling, not even the KING himself, can say the same. Of course, I may be a bit biased...but there's no denying the power of Stephenie Meyer's pen. What's even better is that Meyer has given all of us writers a run for our collective monies. While Stephen KING is still the literary KING in my eyes, Meyer has her own place in the literary hall of fame, as does Rowling.
I suppose the moral of this story is: Don't believe everything that you read. And don't read everything you believe. Just write. Get published. And find your success however it comes. All writers would LOVE to be KING, Rowling or Meyer. Including me.
Happy reading...and writing!