On June 19, 999 Stephen King took a walk and nearly never came home to his wife and kids.  As King might have put it himself, he almost “bit the big one.”  His leg was broken in at least nine places, his lung collapsed, and his glasses ended up on the front seat of the driver of the car who hit him because Stephen King’s head went through the windshield.

King seems to have had a strong will to live, but what interests me most is how he went on to resurrect his life and go on creating compelling new tales.  Surely, wanting to see his wife and kids proved a major motivator, but Stephen King also desperately wanted to write again.  The first day, after many months, he sat down in his wheelchair and managed to sit still and write for an hour and forty minutes, despite excruciating, nearly crippling pain.  His need to write propelled him forward, giving him that extra motivation to live and make whatever words he had left in him matter.

I’m not sure I would have had his resolve.

The lesson learned from Stephen King’s determination:  write through your pain; write in spite of your pain; write to heal whatever ails you.  He started out writing on a desk with a portable typewriter in the laundry room of his cramped quarters–no glitz, no glamor–but despite long odds made an entire, best selling career out of putting words on paper.

In 2003 he won the National Book Award for distinguished contribution to American Letters over the strong protest of more “literary” writers like Marilynne Robinson.  She has won the Putlizer Prize and allegedly claimed when King won the National Book Award that he was merely a hack writer, undeserving of attention from the legit press.  At the most recent Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference held in Chicago, Robinson was asked what she liked to read, and she rather haughtily replied that she doesn’t read contemporary fiction.  Exactly how does that make her competent to critique Stephen King, especially if she has never read one of his novels?  I shudder at how she responds to the creative writing students she purports to teach.

Anyone who has read his novels or short stories like “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” cannot doubt that Stephen King definitely has a lot to say.  There’s an adage:  fiction is a lie that tells the truth.  In all the mystical sorcery involved in creating not one, but many, many fictional universes, King is an honest writer.  At times in his novels he hints at what might happen, then he shows you how it happens, and then recaps, in case you missed his point, but he nevertheless creates stories readers care about.  We follow his characters and care what happens to them, genuinely mourning when we come to the end of his tales.  Isn’t that what fiction writing is all about?  Isn’t that the mark of a great novelist?

I recently finished reading his newest novel, 11/22/63, and was dazzled by his sheer storytelling ability.  This particular story tells of the possibility of going back in time to prevent the assassination of John F. Kennedy and how changing that moment would alter the world as we know it.  King branches out and constantly challenges himself to reach for greater peaks and mountaintops, and doesn’t seem afraid of any subject matter.  He puts aside the horror genre to tell a different tale, but his eager readers gleefully devour every word of his prose.

My advice:  go out an buy a Stephen King book.  Don’t be ashamed or afraid to like John Grisham or mystery authors like Agatha Christie or Chicago native Sara Paretsky who write compelling tales, even if you’re coached to claim to prefer Charles Dickens or Herman Melville or even contemporary writer Marilynne Robinson.

Advertisements