Vampires hiding in mobile homes. Sentient vehicles with attitude. Characters haunted by ghosts, real or imagined. People tormented by addictions, supernatural powers, even their own sense of right and wrong. Folks fighting inner and outer demons alike, facing corruption by greed or some other deadly sin. Even alien shit-weasels burrowing into the darkest recesses of the human, er … condition.
But always, characters shining through as they fight the odds to overcome adversity. These are the inhabitants of Stephen King’s landscape.
He shows us the very best and the very worst of human nature, and everything in between. He’s the master of character. This is because, first and foremost, King understands human nature. We’re compelled by his powerful characterizations; even in the smallest role, a King character shines with personality. We know who he or she is and will remember them a hundred pages later when they make another brief appearance. With a few deft words, King imprints his vision in our brains, and for that, we’re forever grateful. We’ve learned – and continue to learn – from him. King writes long and that’s because his characters come to life and take over. We relish each extra detail, each side story, because they’re all about people, about human nature. Whether we identify with a character or revile one, we know them and, in King’s capable hands, we understand even those most foreign to us.
When my collaborator, Tamara Thorne, was writing her novel, THE SORORITY, she found herself in the mind of a cheerleader – a good girl full of school spirit. Understanding the motivations of a serial killer was simple in comparison. She turned to King and reread THE STAND thinking his character, Frannie Goldsmith, might teach her something about the kind of female she never understood or cared for. Somehow, King eventually did make Frannie understandable – and even likable. It was a lesson well learned and did much to get Tamara into the mind of that most alien of creatures – the cheerleader.
I also frequently turn to King when I’m writing. When penning THE CRIMSON CORSET, I needed to put a new twist on the undead – not all of them, I was certain, live in castles or Gothic mansions in Transylvania. SALEM’S LOT, with its middle-America trailer-park vampires, shed fresh light on the genre and opened up intriguing new possibilities. Rereading that book gave me what I needed to break with tradition whenever and however he chose.
And, of course, as well as learning from the King, we read him for the fun – and the fear – of it. And oh, boy does King know how to scare. It’s rare that either of us reads anything that sets the gooseflesh racing over our skin, but there’s just something about the villains of Stephen King, about the horrific way he describes them, that gets right into our heads and nests there. King pulls no punches and he’s not afraid to tell it like it is.
For us, and so many other writers, Stephen King is a teacher as well as an entertainer, a … ahem, Shining beacon of inspiration by which all else is measured, a Joyland chock-full of Needful Things to be enjoyed and Carried with us during all Different Seasons. There is no Dark Half of Stephen King, no Dead Zone, and certainly no Misery. We hope you’ll excuse our Desperation to take a Stand about his work and what It means to us. The point is, it’s not a Long Walk to pleasure when it comes to the King.
He has the courage to experiment, to take risks in his writing. He refuses to be fettered by others’ expectations, but follows his instincts and examines that which fascinates him – and thus draws us into his world where we travel happily.
We love Stephen King unabashedly and without apology. Even his less-than-stellar books make for better reading than most, and we consider him to be one of the all-time greats, no matter the genre. We’ll take him over “literary” authors any old day of the week and twice on Sundays.