It’s no secret that the horror industry as we know it, today, wouldn’t exist without Stephen King. Hot on the heels of the nationwide phenomena known as The Exorcist, which was a success on page and screen, horror became pop culture. King’s novels of suburban horror opened the niche genre up to America’s housewives, and a creative trickle down effect occurred.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to be a horror writer. It was like the Beatles, all over again. But instead of getting a guitar and forming a band, young boys and girls wanted typewriters.
Now, decades later, on a daily basis, I’ll see some paraphrase of the following in a social media group dedicated to horror books, or movies.
“Is Stephen King any good?”
Pretty innocuous, right? A simple question, one would think, yet it is answered by a plethora of statements:
“Stephen King is the Beatles of writing!”
“I tried reading Stephen King and I don’t like his books.”
“Stephen King made horror popular.”
“Stephen King is a wordy bore.”
“I wanted to become a writer because of Stephen King.”
None of them are wrong. You see, the correct answer to the question is all of the above, depending on you, the reader. We’re all critics in some manner. We like things that we like, and we’re not afraid to tell you if we don’t like something. Writers fall into the trap of over criticizing our own works to the point of anxiety.
Creatives often armchair quarterback narrative choices by screenwriters or other authors. Mightily, with a raised vice in hand, we proclaim it should have been done THIS way, instead. A wise creative, will run with that ball and create something new, paying homage to the source material in some manner.
Take someone like the musician Ritchie Blackmore, for example. Known for being an icon of heavy metal and hard rock guitarists, his best songs were his own derivations of other pieces. His most well-known song, often the first song many new rock guitarists learn, is Smoke on the Water. Folks, Smoke on the Water is nothing more than Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony played backward.
Blackmore, much like his contemporaries Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi in Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, built a career off inspiring other people to play guitar. As a teenager, I can tell you five authors made me want to be a writer. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert E. Howard, Terry Brooks, Tom Monteleone, and … you guessed, it, Stephen King. I’ve spent five decades reading the works of masters. It’s only natural for me to carry on the tradition.
I started on my path as a teen, discovering the books of the aforementioned authors. Being a library hound, I sought out “Who’s Who In America” and the addresses of, you guessed it, the writers who influenced me. First, it was Terry Brooks, then Stephen King (I sent him a horribly written fantasy story), and finally, L. Sprague De Camp (due to his relationship with the work of Howard).
Terry humored me, responding to one of my letters. I carried a correspondence with Sprague for a couple of years, picking his mind on writing tips. As a result, I dubbed him with a pun name, “L. Sprague de Facto” as the closest thing I had to a mentor in the business.
And yes, Stephen King answered me, too. Here’s the proof:
Let me preface this by stating how embarrassing this letter looks to me today as an adult. GOD FUCKING DAMN WAS I A TROLL! Modern Social Media Grammar Nazis would’ve been all over me if Facebook existed in 1984. But here it is, in all its ugly glory. Me, telling Stephen King, the master, how much his writing… SUCKS? Are you fucking kidding me? Yep, I actually said this to Stephen King in a letter.
Why am I sharing this with you? To show young writers out there that you, too, can grow and mature.
This was at the height of King’s infamous drug and booze addiction years, the spring of 1984. Yet even fucked up on NyQuil and coke, Stephen King had the presence of mind to reply politely to a teenage fanboy troll.
And I learned from this. I learned what it takes to become successful and let me tell you, being a curmudgeon living under a bridge, waiting to dine on Englishmen, is not it.
This is what makes Stephen King the success he is, aside from hard work. No matter how many words he writes on a page a day, or how prolific he is in his writing output. His one, most important personality trait?
We should learn from his example here. Maybe the next time a new writer comes to you and says the wrong things, maybe we should step back instead of “blocking” them. Think about why they might say something so downright rude. And then, the right thing to do is follow up with the example of how they should act, through your own actions.
Social media is a mixed blessing. As with anything computerized, it’s garbage in, garbage out. It can help people maintain long-distance networking relationships. It unites old friends. It is a communication device for many. Some people believe there is anonymity on the internet, allowing them to be assholes. Nor can we forget the grand division in our country over political rhetoric on social media.
Be kind to your fellows, have some grace. Even to the trolls. They may grow up one day, too.