Last week, I was distracted by dreams of corned beef and cabbage, Guinness Stout and Harp lager. And then on Saturday, I picked up a book that I had put on hold months ago at the library – Stephen King’s 11/22/63, about a time-travelin’ 2011 guy determined to prevent the assassination of JFK. So instead of writing about publishing, I spent the afternoon knocking back black and tans (after watching about a dozen youtube videos about how to effectively pour them) and reading.
I love Stephen King, and I think he is a fine writer. There, I’ve said it. I still remember opening The Shining on a lunch break years ago, and being about ten pages in when I realized two things: it was going to scare the shit out of me (I was not a fan of horror novels) and I wasn’t going to stop reading. Because by then, the predicament that this struggling writer and father found himself in had captured my imagination, and I knew I had to soldier through the gruesomeness to find out how he coped.
The fact that King writes about horror has always been incidental to me. I’m a fan because his stories are centered around childhood and friendship and love. His characters try to do the right thing and sometimes fail. They exhibit unfathomable courage (granted, it’s mostly unfathomable because we can’t imagine a vampire scratching at our window) in the face of inexplicable events that lead to either salvation or (more often) ghastly consequences. Reading his novels makes you wonder things like, “What would I do if a clown came out of a storm drain and ripped my little brother’s arm off? Go home and crawl under the covers or go after the bastard?”
King’s breakthrough novel, the fourth he wrote, was Carrie, the story of a tormented teenager who unleashed a storm of fury, and then some, on her torturers. The $2,500 advance he received was a windfall for his young family, who were so broke they didn’t have a phone. The $400,000 from the paperback sale lifted him out of poverty and sent him on to literary fame. That was in 1973. If Stephen King was starting out today, what kind of trajectory would he follow? It’s possible that he would be picked up by an agent, but just as likely that he would he become impatient with poverty and self-publish those early novels. And like Amanda Hocking, he could wind up a self-published sensation. I like to think that that’s what would happen, that his talent would rise to the top. But it’s possible that his stories would be lost in the clamor of the internet, and the world would have gained an imaginative English teacher, but lost a mighty fine teller of tales.