I have a confession to make: I'm the worst kind of cliche. Stephen King made me want to be a writer.
It's more than a cliche. It's a widespread problem. Stephen King has inspired many - possibly too many - people to become writers. It's not just a question of his commercial success. When I talk to other writers I don't hear the same fondness for Grisham or Crichton or Nicholas Sparks or Danielle Steele - or for critical darling types like Philip Roth or Toni Morrison or Saul Bellow or whoever. People talk about certain writers with admiration, they talk about other writers with derision, and they talk about still other writers as guilty pleasures, but people talk about Stephen King like he's a buddy and a mentor.
I think this is for three reasons:
1) King is abnormally accessible as a novelist. Not like he has people over to his house, but he communicates with readers beyond his novel writing more consistently and openly than any other mega-successful novelist I can think of. Between Danse Macbre and On Writing and his prologues and afterwards to his short story anthologies and his Entertainment Weekly column and his interviews and essays and his nonstop blurbing of other novelists... it kinda seems like we've been hanging out with Stephen King for years. He's really not one of those writers who thinks the art should do all the talking, and I kind of appreciate that. And as a result, he makes the process of writing seem less mystical and intimidating, so more people try it.
2) The protagonists of his novels are often writers. Stephen King is just about the only writer who pulls this off without eye-rolling obnoxiousness, most particularly in the immortal Misery, which nailed the formerly-believed-to-be-impossible trick of making writerly solipsism into superb and incisive entertainment. People will be reading Misery forever.
3) The power of his storytelling. At his best, King communicates through his writing the literary equivalent of joy of performance, the zone you sometimes see performers get into when they're having so much fun on stage that it infects everyone in the audience. Some actors make me wish I was onstage acting with them when I see them, and that's what Stephen King novels and stories used to do for me - they made me wish I was telling a story as well. It just looked so fun. (I say "used to" just because I haven't read King in a number of years, except for Cell (zombies, you know). No particular reason, I just have a bunch of other books I need to get to.)
The first stuff I wrote as a little kid was stories ripping off the "Doctor Who" episodes I was watching all the time, but I got my first real practice in junior high school, when I spent all my spare time writing stories ripping off Stephen King. There's whole notebooks of them at my parent's house. (Or I think that's where they are. With any luck, they're lost forever.) These stories were terrible, I have no doubt, but I definitely was inspired to write them by reading Stephen King. I started Pet Sematary in the seventh grade and read everything else he published over the next two or so years. (You know what it's like if you've read premium King; you read instead of sleeping.)
Man, I ripped off everything. The little italics-in-parentheses thing where people are thinking in frantic little thought-lets? I ripped that shit off. The household items that turned out to be demonic? I so ripped off that shit. The one thing I continue to rip off to this day, even though I've completely stopped writing fiction, is the way King kind of dramatizes the story in the way he lays out the print on the page - the italics, the all-of-a-sudden CAPITAL LETTERS WHEN SOME CRAZY SHIT IS GOING DOWN AND THE WHAP-AP-AP-AP SOUND EFFECTS!! and so forth. I like to format and lay out my scripts in such a way that the readers can feel the dramatic tempo just reading it on the page. I'm incredibly fussy about it. And then I always have to change it to save paper.
All of this to say, I flipped out when the Nosedive guys asked me to adapt a Stephen King short story for this year's installment of their Halloween series The Blood Brothers. Now admittedly, since Pete and Patrick try to avoid supernatural horror in The Blood Brothers, I couldn't do any of the storied that used to really fuck up my sleep, like "The Boogeyman" or "Gray Matter," but instead I got to do one I'd never read before, "In The Deathroom," which is about a subject of great interest to me of late, i.e. torture. It really was one of the most purely pleasurable, neuroses-free writing experiences I've ever had.
Anyway, I'm way behind in my plugging. That's a product of my more-or-less permanent condition of blog-choke that I suffer from. And here I am writing about The Blood Brothers present The Master of Horror (which I think they had to change the title too after Stephen King's Stephen King: An Evening of Stephen King by Stephen King didn't fly with King's reps) with the run half over. Still, there's six performances left, this weekend and next weekend, and some nice reviews here, here, and here. These guys didn't like it as much, but they saw the opening night, and, as Jimmy notes, the run got off to a rough technical start. By this past Thursday, everything was smoothed out, and it's now an awesomely gross and distubing evening's entertainment, with stuff by Jimmy, Qui, and two other pieces adapted more or less straight from King's texts. It all ends on a marvelous image of a blood-drenched cast taking a curtain call.
You can get tickets here. I'm off to my high school reunion this weekend (so weird!) but I'll be there next week.