Stephen King makes me want to be a better writer

3 Oct

Edit: PDF to my story has a password: callipygian

For a long time I used to snub my nose at Stephen King. Like plenty of literary snobs I thought his popularity and productivity meant that he couldn’t (read: shouldn’t) be taken seriously. Then I read his book, On Writing. A work which is part autobiography and part instruction manual on how to write truthfully; that is, how to write well. I assure you that if you pick up this book you will learn a tremendous amount about writing. But you will also learn a lot about Stephen King. What I learned made me both laugh, cry, and become an admiring fan.

Below is a link to an essay he wrote recently regarding the fate of the American short story. I think you should read it.

What Ails the Short Story – Stephen King – New York Times

Then you should read this. It’s the last short story I wrote (sadly, it’s been four years). I’ve only shared it with the students in my creative writing class. It’s not going to win any awards, but it is the best piece I’ve ever written. Had I died on that operating table, you’d never known it existed. King reminds me that I owe it to the art to not let that happen. So read, comment if you wish. And no mater how you come about reading this, I trust that you won’t steal it and call it your own.

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11 Responses to “Stephen King makes me want to be a better writer”

  1. Cliff Burns October 3, 2007 at 12:39 pm #

    Stephen King talks the talk but, unfortunately, aesthetically speaking he doesn’t walk the walk. He works too fast, lavishes too little effort on editing and as a result his works (including his short stories) are bloated and inconsistent.

    I cannot for the life of me imagine why he was selected as editor of BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES this year; I suppose they wanted his name on the cover to sell a few more copies.
    They overlooked some might fine writers to let him have that post…it is an accolade he does NOT deserve…

  2. yrlhowe October 3, 2007 at 3:11 pm #

    We shall have to disagree on his being undeserving, Cliff. Are there others who deserve the opportunity? Certainly. I don’t, however, agree that he is any less a master in the craft or any less an appropriate editor than those previously chosen. He is imperfect and has written imperfect things. Certainly, all writers have. But I argue that he is a craftsman of storytelling and written word, not merely a formulaic hack, which is what the literati among us frequently seek to dismiss him as.

    Does his name offer a great amount of cache that the publishers of The Great American Short Stories hope will sell a few more copies? Definitely. But popularity does not make one a bad writer. It just makes the rest of us talented, impoverished writers insanely jealous.

  3. Cliff Burns October 3, 2007 at 5:00 pm #

    Nope, not jealous of King’s money or popularity. I am, however, jealous of Robert Stone’s facility with language, Colson Whitehead’s brilliance, Don DeLillo’s EVERYTHING…

    Keep in mind, this is the same man (King) who, when he made “Maximum Overdrive”. said he had written a “moron movie” and claims that he’s never had an original idea in his life, “only bounces”. I wish his honesty hadn’t deserted him when the publisher of BEST AMERICAN STORIES came to him. I would have respected more if he’d declined, knowing full well that he isn’t fit to carry the pencil cases of a good proportion of the writers he’ll be considering for this year’s edition…

  4. James October 3, 2007 at 5:46 pm #

    well i lost what i had original responded with,

    but anyway, I was had been thinking the other day about our Jr High english class special guest, “The Horror Enthusiast.” I remember at the time many people wondered what Ms Lunt was thinking by brining this guy in our class…he was sort of like the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. One of the books he tried to turn us onto was the book you mentioned “On Writing.”

  5. James October 3, 2007 at 5:54 pm #

    my mistake, it could not have been “On Writing.” as this book was published in 2000. the book was perhaps “Danse Macabre.” published in 1981.

    to this day King is one of the few writers i am willing to spend coin on. if you havent had the chance yet, I recomend “It, “Different Seasons,” and “The Eyes of the Dragon.”

    i agree with some of what Cliff says about King, but i think King has matured much since the time he wrote “Christine.” he is a talented writer with a knack for writing stories that people want to read..above all i believe that is what really matters in the end. I was especially moved by his recent write up on the “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

    http://www.ew.com/ew/article/0,,20044270_20044274_20050689,00.html

    -James

  6. yrlhowe October 3, 2007 at 6:09 pm #

    @ Cliff
    Clearly, you disagree with me. That doesn’t change my stance. The fact that I’m unaware of any of the writers you mention is perhaps a symptom of the very thing King is lamenting about in his essay. Or, perhaps my taste is simply to plebeian to compete with yours. I’m not an academic, nor a publisher, simply a person who enjoys an artfully crafted sentence and a story that takes me away. I have always felt compelled to write. This sensation gives me as much pleasure, as it does fear. This blog is my way of dealing with the fear. I’m okay with that meaning I might express opinions with which my audience might disagree.

    @James
    Must have been a different book. King’s book wasn’t published until 2001, after his near-death encounter with a van. I don’t remember the comic book guy from Ms. Lunt’s class. I probably turned my nose in the air and decided to ditch. She had that effect on me.

  7. Cliff Burns October 3, 2007 at 7:54 pm #

    Nothing wrong with disagreeing amiably and respectfully. I appreciate your opinion and wish you the best.

  8. yrlhowe October 3, 2007 at 8:15 pm #

    @James
    Thanks for that article. Literary Potter-mania never caught on with me. There goes my geek cred. I enjoy the films, though. But the article has great correlation with our conversation, here. Clearly King is arguing that Rowling’s skills as a writer are rarely (if ever) discussed; as the popularity of her fiction excludes her from the conversation of “serious literature.” I’m not arguing that the Harry Potter series *is* serious fiction; rather, that its popularity alone does not make its author untalented or ignorant about the art form.

  9. Lynne October 4, 2007 at 3:31 pm #

    I must admit that I stopped reading King right around the time that I was introduced to Magical Realism, and I’ve never gone back (though up to that point, I was an avid fan). Blame it on the Latin American authors! Does he have talent? Absolutely – anyone who can spin a yarn in which you HAVE to read the next chapter to find out what happens has talent. Is it literature? Eh…I don’t think I would classify any of the stuff I’ve read of his as literature (despite how Trivial Persuit defines the term) when I compare it with much of the stuff I’ve been exposed to through the course of my schooling. Course, I don’t think I would classify the Potter books that way either, but they are great fun – and King is absolutely right about the kids growing up with the audience. I think if Harry had stayed the same age/mental age as in the first two books, I would never have continued with the series.
    As to your story, I’ve always found you brilliant, so it was no surprise that I found your story so – though I need to go back and do a thorough read. Thank you so much for sharing!
    And, I’ve spent the past twenty minutes racking my brain for the Comic Book Guy, and I’m coming up blank. Course, I’m coming up blank for most things in that class other than the idiotic Name Poems we had to do the first day….

  10. James October 4, 2007 at 5:42 pm #

    another infamous event happened the same day the Comic Book guy came. Amanda Burns slapped me! The outrage!

    i refuse of course to embrace Academia because i view it as a farce, and at its core elitist. excuse me for stepping on soap box Yolanda… its amazing to me that people have arguments over whose writing is more “intelligent,” or “worthy” of consumption. its Mensa’s measuring contest.. look i like Potter because Rowling made characters that you cared about. i like King because he understands the human condition. and as far as the Magical Realism books Lynne mentioned, i may have to go examine them again now that I am older. at the time i felt these guys were trying to hard, the writing too ornate and gilded for my consumption, ive always preferred the raw and the subtle… but then again ones preference in writing is like ones preference to art… to some Picasso’s- a work of genius! to me- ive seen an elephant do the same thing!

    here is something else that i would like to contribute to the thread: http://cnnstudentnews.cnn.com/2007/SHOWBIZ/books/10/03/books.se.hinton.ap/index.html

    an interview with S.E. Hinton, 40 years after she wrote “The Outsiders” as a young teenager in the midwest. Did she please the Academics? No..but she made a profound impact on a generation of children. she once received a “D” in creative writing… (i still need to read your story Yolanda)

  11. yrlhowe October 4, 2007 at 8:30 pm #

    @James
    Wow. The Great Amanda Burns Slapping Incident of 1991. How the hell could I forget? Clearly, the slapping holds more significance in my memory than aforementioned Comic Book Guy (though I admit I didn’t remember it until you mentioned it; your memory is even more elephantine than mine is). The Outsiders completely gripped me. Aside from Romeo and Juliet, it would have to be my favorite piece of assigned reading from junior high. Thanks for the additional link.

    @Lynne
    Yes. The amazing writers we were lucky enough to be turned on to in high school have colored my taste since then. I definitely am not putting Stephen King or JK Rowlings writings amongst the genius work of a Fuentes, Marquez, or Atwood. I simply want to acknowledge that once I was too much of a lit snob to give King any respect as a craftsman of the word. I didn’t even consider what he did to be “real writing.” My opinion on that has changed. I now have tremendous respect for what he does, even if I seek to do something else in my own writing (And thank you for the compliments on the story.)

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