Hi and welcome to The Green Castle. 🙂
Some of Stephen King’s non-fiction about writing in general and his own writing in particular is what I really enjoy re-reading, out of all his work. In the early 1980s, Danse Macabre presented many intriguing insights about his personal history of loving and raising himself among Horror stories and a more specific delight in storytelling through movies. As a bonus, he describes the Golden Age of drive-in movie theatres that ahs become a fairly faint memory for even many ‘Generation X’ readers, including this blogger. 🙂 Even back in the early ’80s, and the ’70s, when his then-editor first suggested the idea for this book at a time when King was ‘only’ four or five books into his now-legendary career, King’s knowledge of Horror was encyclopaedic in detail and scope. His love of it was already all-absorbing. For me as a reader, easily the best feature of the book is that the writing was and remains very accessible – very informed yet still had and had an easy-going aspect to it. In his own words: “…I hope you have some fun with this book. Nosh and nibble at the corners or read the mother straight through, but enjoy”. Now that is unlikely to ever be confused with the introduction to a super-serious thesis. 🙂
Many years after that book, his On Writing memoir, which keeps being cited as a ‘modern classic’ about the writer’s craft, certainly rewards a lot of re-reading, partly because he is still willing to laugh at himself a lot and also be easy-going and candid about how he describes his own early life. Later, the accident and his process of living with the recovery also includes flashes of humour among the grimaces. His wife, Tabitha, and the kids, also get occasional very heartfelt mentions and there is no doubt just how much he realises he is indebted to his wife for staying through a lot of not-good-at-all times. For this post, though, I’m singling out his early-2000s collection of short stories, Everything’s Eventual, in which he also provides a really interesting range of personal commentaries about the stories. I’ll write about the stories themselves in a later post.
Firstly, imagine for a moment that you’re at a writers’ festival and in one panel session that includes a favourite writer -I’ll call them The Writer just for easy reference – and you get the chance to hear their personal ‘take’ on the experience/s behind specific stories and why they just “had to” write them, even if the stories didn’t find a market any time soon or win a competition. On the day of that panel session, The Writer is every bit as entertaining as you hoped when booking your festival ticket. You learn that there was no getting around the fact that a specific story idea had entrenched itself in The Writer’s mind and wouldn’t get out unless and until written out onto a page or screen. The Writer does have the ‘gift of the gab’ to a fair extent, and plenty of past festival experience, so they seem at ease with the audience and happy to share some tales about the writer’s life as they see it . It is one of those Ideal Writers’ Festival experiences you can take away with you and happily remember on your way home and later still, when reading their next story or hearing them in an interview, reading a column they’ve done for a magazine or simply checking out their author blog or website if they have one (King himself does have an online presence, at: http://www.stephenking.com/index.html).
Keep that image in mind but now add this scenario: you saw in some writer’s news updates you get that The Writer was going to be at ‘that’ writers’ festival as a panel member and do long signing sessions, one-on-one chat sessions for the festival’s website/on-site radio station/special magazine supplement, etc…but for one reason or another you just can’t get to it this year. After coming to grips with that disappointment, you ask yourself: what is a ‘next best thing’ kind of option? Well, if you’re lucky, The Writer has actually written about their writing life and some specific books or favourite stories. So, while you’re house-bound until maybe the next year/the next festival, you can at least go to those comments/reflections/remarks within an interview and absorb yourself in the reading of them and enjoy what The Writer has given you in some form. Also, you are giving yourself a personal (albeit imaginary) panel session experience featuring The Writer presenting their gems of self-deprecating humour and hard-earned wisdom…with a pretty good consolation prize that, clueless family members/brash guests/hungry pets aside, no total jerk or pushy bitch will cut in at random with their own self-glorifying comment and/or trivial question that breaks the flow of words and you won’t have to witness the panel’s MC not managing to convince them to shut up and sit down or leave early.
OK, time to go to the book itself and give a few short examples of what I’ve been talking about. 🙂
Introduction: ‘Practising the (Almost) Lost Art: “…[I] have run a lot of language through the 2.2-pound organic computer/word processor I hang my Red Sox cap on”[p.xi] – on his decades of writing experience, not kidding himself about offering something profoundly new, yet having some confidence his own take on things could be worth considering. Plus, on the value of the Short Story as a form of story-telling: “…the equivalent of one of those one-of-a-kind items you can buy in an artisan’s shop”[p.xvi];
for the story ‘Autopsy Room Four’: “at some point I think every writer of scary stories has to tackle the subject of premature burial, if only because it seems to be such a pervasive fear”[p.30];
for the title story, ‘Everything’s Eventual’: “it [the story] came out smoothly and without a singe hesitation, supporting my idea that stories are artifacts: not really made things which we create (and can take credit for), but things wich we dig up”[p.235]
for the story ‘Lunch at the Gotham Cafe’: “For me what makes it [the story] go isn’t the crazy maitre’d but the spooky relationship between the divorcing couple. In their own way, they’re crazier than he is. By far.”[p.360]
for the story ‘1408’, which started out as a ‘this is one possible way to start writing a new story’ kind of exercise in the On Writing book: “…In any case, let’s check in, shall we? Here’s your key…and you might take time to notice what those four innocent numbers add up to.”[p.424]
Happily, I suggest, Stephen King’s comments about the stories in the Everything’s Eventual collection are as close as you might reasonably get to a next-best-thing personal chance to ‘hear’ his wry and seasoned take on story-telling. 🙂
*For this blog post, I am using the Hodder&Stoughton/Hodder headline edition, Everything’s Eventual: 14 Dark Tales, published in 2002. The cited Danse Macabre edition is also from Hodder, in 1981.