Why I Love Stephen King

Patrick watched me climb into bed the other night with an enormous Stephen King library book under my arm and remarked, "I just don't understand why you like to be scared." I've been chewing over that comment ever since, because I like to feel completely understood by Patrick at all times. For me, feeling understood equals feeling loved.

The next morning, an award-winning bloggy pal wrote a post about having read Stephen King's memoir/writing manual, and I felt the coincidence was too good to pass up.

I don't know whether many readers of this blog have read much of King's work. Some, like Patrick, shy away from horror fiction for various reasons. Others may be too busy reading Litrahchah; still others may not want that much sheer poundage for their reading buck.

I don't read Stephen King because I like to be scared, though his books can often be terrifying. I'm not recommending his work; even his less grim stories are liberally peppered with earthy language and grisly images. They are not for the faint of heart, or for those under the age of seventeen (yes, Christian, that's when I'll let you start reading them). But I will tell you that I think Stephen King is one of the great writers of our time, right up there with Mark Helprin, Umberto Eco, and Don DeLillo. Here are some of the reasons why I love him:

10) He's an original. He has a distinctive writing style and voice which he has honed over years of consistent work. He has re-worked old tropes and invented new ones that have become iconic in our culture. Think of Jack Nicholson grinning through a splintered bathroom door, the epitome of a violent paranoiac. But there are plenty more. Troubled teenage wallflower? Call her Carrie. Aggressive dog? 'Cujo' is the shorthand term you're looking for.

9) He taught me to listen to people others dismiss as crazy, to see them with fresh and open eyes. In the world according to King, it is usually the crazy people who see things as they really are. I find this instructive, with biblical precedent.

There was a man who would walk the streets of Manhattan when we lived there, bellowing at the top of his lungs, "Alleluia, ah-lay-looooo-yuh, JEE-zuzzz." We would hear him at all hours and in a variety of neighborhoods. I've always wondered what motivated that guy, whether he saw himself as a latter-day Jeremiah or John, a voice crying in the wilderness of New York City. You can bet that he'll end up in a book of my own someday. I learn something new about myself when I pay attention to those who are a little (or a lot) marginal. And they make great characters.

8) SK is passionate about baseball. 'Nuff said.

7) He doesn't take himself too seriously. I have no patience for writers or actors who start talking in lofty tones about their 'craft,' reinforcing the mystique that they are somehow better than the plebes that make up their audiences. When asked about his work, my pal Stephen says that he simply loves telling a good story, and that he is grateful to have been able to support his family doing so. Down to earth. Confident in his gift, but with no pretensions to grandeur. Love it.

6) He tells a wing-ding of a story. His books are whoppers in the best speculative fiction sense of the term--tall tales like those told around campfires. The characters are complex; the conversations sound authentic. The stories feel true, even at their most unreal. An underlying theme of much of his work is the stark symmetry of the opposites found everywhere around us in the world: peace and hatred; beauty and atrocity; good and evil.

5) His book On Writing is one of two writing manuals worth anything at all, in my opinion (the other one is Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird). Tangent: here are the other books worth having on your shelf if you want to write fiction: a good dictionary; a good thesaurus; Strunk & White; a good grammar book; and The Chicago Manual of Style.

4) Stephen is unbelievably prolific, having written 45 novels in 33 years, plus a whole lot of short stories, quite a few screenplays, and a pack of non-fiction. He doesn't understand why this astonishes people. In On Writing, he comments, "If God gives you something you can do, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?" Amen. I've enjoyed at least a book per year of his for the past 25 years; I am confident that this bounty will continue as long as we are both alive.

3) He can make a long plane ride feel like five minutes. There are many great writers whose work I can enjoy in small packages: a chapter here, a chapter there a week later, if need be. Stevie is one of a handful of authors whose books I save for the binge times. If I can, I'll read them straight through in a day or two, absentmindedly shoving DVDs and boxes of crackers towards my family members when they make a bid for my attention. Among other writers in this category are George R.R. Martin, Tad Williams, Peter Straub, and Diana Gabaldon.

2) He's not perfect. He's written a few spectacularly bad books: The Tommyknockers and Rose Madder come to mind. But he's a fighter. He kicked drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol years ago; more recently, he fully recovered from severe injuries, including a shattered hip, after being hit by a car while walking near his house.

Anyone who can come back from scathing reviews, unrelenting snobbery, serious addiction, and several weeks in intensive care has big-time character. You want more evidence of his character? He's been happily married to his college sweetheart for close to forty years. His three grown children adore him. That's all I need.

1) He asks deep questions and wrestles with them all the way through his stories. Sometimes he comes up with answers, sometimes not. That's fine with me; I like questions better than answers anyway.

His books are almost always allegorical, but because King doesn't have a didactic bone in his body, the deeper story never shows through at the plot's expense--brilliant. Stevie has a great heart; he believes that good will prevail. This may sound wiggy to anyone who has ever seen The Shining, but I feel uplifted and energized after reading his work. He inspires me to be a better writer, but more importantly, he inspires me to be a better person.

If someone were undaunted by my caveats and wanted a good introduction to Mr. King's work, I would recommend:

1) The Green Mile
2) The Talisman (written with Peter Straub)
3) The Shining
4) The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
5) Lisey's Story

If you get that far, write me; we'll chat. Until then, I can't wait for Duma Key!


Queen for a Day

Here are some flowers from my yard for you in honor of Mother's Day. The lilacs make the whole house smell heavenly. I hope your day was as great as mine was!

Mine started off with ambrosial French toast made by my personal chef. Church was lovely: the kids sang and I got appropriately misty. Bonus: all the moms scored charming little boxes of fabulous See's candy! It's hard to get in the Northeast, so it was doubly treasured even as I scarfed it down.

I received handmade items: sweet cards, a beautiful tissue paper corsage, and bright paper lilies that now grace my dresser. My very exciting gift from the family was my very own Weed Dragon! I cannot wait to flame all the dandelions and plantains in the entire yard. It might even be able to vanquish the dreaded ground ivy. I'm raring to go.

In the late afternoon, my personal chef fired up the grill and made his patent-pending Boursin Burgers. I drool at the memory. Really: Patrick makes the best burgers in the universe; even his regular cheeseburgers are better than any others I've ever tasted.

The weather was perfect--cool breezes, warm sun, brilliant azure sky--truly fit for a queen. I'll toddle off to bed now feeling pampered and special. Thanks, guys!


Dude, where's my knitting bag?

I know that panic and other strong emotions tend to bring out the California in me, but seriously. Dude. Where is it?

I last remember seeing it last Saturday--I think. Life is a blur when you are on deadline.

It's making me a little nutty. (Okay, nuttier.) Of course, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and while I always want to knit, anxiety is bringing on a downright craving.

I'm usually very organized and have great visuospatial memory. When Patrick can't find his glasses or his wallet or his keys, I almost always know exactly where they are. Essential things like my knitting bag have specific places where I put them; this is a fact upon which we all have relied in this household. Until now.

First that photo goes missing, then my all-important knitting bag. I'm worried that next to go will be my mind. Dude....

It's time for a hard-target search.


What Other Shoe?

One of my favorite parenting stories involves my sister, her first husband, and their son, Sam. Going home from some social event, Bill turned to Angie and asked, "Do you think it makes other people sad that their kids aren't as cute as Sam?"

I've smiled about that anecdote for years. It seems that every parent secretly (or not) feels that his or her child is superlative--although speaking semi-objectively, Sam was the most adorable baby ever. Until Christian came along, that is.

After a somewhat colicky start in life, Christian came into his own as a sweet, funny, precociously verbal child. We spent all day, every day together, and I don't remember ever getting tired of his companionship. As if he knew that one of the ways to my heart was through books, he would remain entranced as I read aloud to him for literally hours on end. Sometimes I'd get hoarse because we'd been reading for so long. When I was busy with other things, he'd sit happily with a big stack of books at his side, making his way through them over and over again.

Like many little boys, he had a deep love for trucks of all sorts. A highlight of his week was garbage pick-up day. He would perch on top of the radiator cover in front of his bedroom window and look down at the garbage truck picking up our apartment building's trash. Load, load, crash, grind: this was a show that never got old. Once, at a dinner party, he told a friend of ours, "I want to be a garbage man when I grow up. My parents think that's funny."

Christian was able to relate to people of all ages, initiating conversation with strangers and putting them at ease. He had so many interests that he had something in common with nearly everyone. He never got tired of trips to the "Dinosaur Museum" or the "Pyramid Museum." He had names for the various playgrounds we frequented in Central and Riverside Parks: "Volcano," "Pirate," "Turtle," "Hippo." His joy and enthusiasm for life were infectious.

Through his early life, I kept telling myself that this couldn't last. I braced myself for the pre-pubescent and teen years, when surely our friendship would be put on hold for at least a decade. I know it's still early (and I'm knocking on all kinds of wood), but at thirteen-and-a-half, Christian remains delightful.

He cheerfully does whatever I ask of him, from practicing the piano to changing Daniel's diaper. He is close to his siblings, who bask in his kindness and attention. He bears his infrequent punishments with good grace and apologizes sincerely and promptly when he has made a mistake. He is thrilled for the success of others and can laugh at himself, two signs of humility that I prize highly. Does he have flaws? Oh, yes. But you won't hear about them from me. He knows what they are, and we see him working to remove them.

Christian and I are excited about our birthday month. Patrick, foxy saint that he is, is sending us off to the World Fantasy Convention in November, which will be held in exotic Saratoga Springs this year. We're excited that some of our favorite writers will be there and that the theme is right up our geekified alley; I anticipate a great weekend with one of my very best friends.

My definition of a blessing is this: something that turns one to God. In this light, anything from a found five-dollar bill to a lifetime of hardship is potentially a blessing. If you use your money or AI-worthy voice or mad nunchuck skills to bring more light and peace into the world, and your character is refined thereby, then those things are a blessing to you. If not....well, consider turning to God.

Christian is a blessing to me. I am absolutely not fishing here: I take zero credit for his goodness. He came to us that way. If I had a doubt that Wordsworth's "Ode to Immortality" was inspired, Christian dispells it. He has taught this Olympic-class grudge holder to be slower to anger and quicker to forgive. He reminds me to be free with hugs and smiles. He appreciates my creative endeavors in any form. He follows the example of his amazing father by standing up for truth and his friends fearlessly. He helps me get closer to being the person I dream of being. And I thank God for him every single day.


Doing the Happy Dance!

Woo-hoo! We just found out that the Judge handed down his decision. He upheld the vote as legal and valid and ordered the Town Board to pay the Library all funds owed immediately!