Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fine Fifteen Authors - Stephen King

Is there a writer of fiction anywhere over the last quarter-century who can honestly say he has not been influenced by this modern master? And I'm not talking about horror writers; Stephen King has long since passed the point where only horror aficionadoes paid attention to his work.

The first Stephen King book I ever read was CARRIE. I didn't like it that much. It was kind of short and I expected it to be scarier than it was; maybe I expected more because of all the hype and there was no way the book could ever have measured up.

But one thing that impressed me, even back then, was how this brand-new author, this overnight sensation, was able to place the reader in the shoes of the young girl at the heart of the story; to make you feel the crushing loneliness of the teen with no friends, the victim who gets pushed and pushed until she snaps and, with the aid of supernatural powers she does not even understand, performs a monstrous act of revenge on her torturers.

After CARRIE I read, in short order, 'SALEM'S LOT, THE SHINING, and THE STAND, enjoying each book more than the last, eagerly awaiting each of King's releases. At times, especially with 'SALEM'S LOT, I was literally afraid to turn out the lights in my room when I put the book down for the night, but that's not what I liked best about Stephen King's work.

The best thing about his work, and I believe the reason a horror writer was able to rise above a genre typically sneered at by "serious" writers and sell gazillions of books in a career spanning nearly forty years and still going strong, is his ability to craft worlds we could all see ourselves living in.

Whether it is a world dominated by vampires (and not the cuddly, sparkly kind), as in 'SALEM'S LOT, or, more than three decades later, a world where an invisible dome mysteriously slams down from the sky and cuts a Maine town off from the rest of the world, the settings are exquisitely crafted and conflicts are realistic and the dialogue rings true. The reader has absolutely no problem suspending disbelief and setting him-or-herself smack-dab into the middle of the action.

And as an inspiration for fledgling authors, you could do a lot worse than emulating Stephen King. His non-fiction book, ON WRITING, is an indispensible addition to the library of anyone who wants to write stories for other people's consumption. The book's title makes it sound dry and boring, but it's not. It's a fascinating look inside the life and mind of a guy who has achieved iconic status among modern authors as well as a nuts-and-bolts guide to crafting fiction.

I find it interesting to see how many authors list Stephen King as an influence. Romance writers, thriller writers, you name it; his name comes up as often as any writer's and more than most in terms of influence, and that's just as it should be.

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