Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Writing by Stephen King

Sometime in 1983, 84’ maybe, in a darkened musty theater that smelled of stale pop corn and spearmint gum, I saw the movie Cujo, a cinematic tale of a rabid, gigantic dog that terrorized a family trapped in a car. Only two things stand out in my memory of that event long ago: my first R-rated movie wasn’t all it was cracked up to be (Did all that blood really look like strawberry jam?), and sometime before the end I became monstrously ill in the barely lit girls bathroom located in the bowels of that old theater.

I ask myself now, was I sickened by the lack of Oscar-worthy performances, excluding the dog - he was an excellent actor, or was it just bad luck to catch an untimely flu when undoubtedly boys must’ve been present? I can’t remember much about the story so the latter must’ve been the case. Stephen King can’t remember it either, not the story itself, but writing it. A whole novel writing process, forgotten, obliterated in a drug-induced haze. Amazing. That’s just one of the little tid-bits King reveals in his memoir, a book I thought because of its title would be about writing, but is really a peek into the mind of a great story teller. And, did I mention, I don’t remember reading one of his thirty-plus books.


So, why did I read this one? Good question. I guess he's always been such an opinionated old fart that I wanted to learn more about him, and even though I’ve never been much interested in any of his novels, there is no doubt this man’s imagination is off the charts. I’ve always thought him a down-to-earth sort of writer, not afraid to get his hands dirty. I can tell that just by looking at his picture. He looks like a man who has never had an easy time of it, his face weathered and beaten by the gale force wind of life. Even with his monumental success, there’s nothing snooty about him. A straight shooter, if you will. For the good, and bad.

Two parts auto-biography, one part writing advice, On Writing is an honest look into who Stephen King is, as if he were conversing with you from an easy chair in his study; his voice raspy and deep from years of smoking; his eyes a bit dimmer from that accident that almost claimed his life while he finished this book. He rambles like a cantankerous old man whose life experience he believes begs him worthy to offer advice, whether you want to hear it or not. This memoir, like that type of conservation is really just a collection of random informal thoughts collected on paper, sometimes in chronological order, sometimes not.

I’ve always thought Stephen King didn’t care if anyone liked him, or his books. I don’t think that now. Perhaps he, like everyone else, does need vindication after all. 3 stars


Stephanie said...

I'm curious: you've read several books about writing now. What did you think of his advice?

And I love this review. I can just picture you in that movie theater. Shall we suggest a King novel for Book Club? Followed by a King movie (preferably rated R) for comparison purposes?

Lula O said...

He mainly wrote about things that irritate him: too many adverbs, to much unnecessary wordiness, etc. Cut everything by 10% he said. It was all very random stuff. The book was mainly about him, his history, how he gets his work done. He emphasized again and again how reading and writing go hand in hand - he reads 80 books a year. How you can't do one without the other. And he discussed how he came up with some of his ideas, and that I found interesting, as I've always wondered where he dreamed up some of his stuff. He has a great imagination.

Do you think those movies are available on netflix? So much of his stuff is a movie now, it wouldn't be hard to find one. We should do one around Halloween. Oooooo, spooky...speaking of which that old theater I was in was very creepy, probably haunted now that I think about it. Great atmosphere for a movie with fake blood.