Stephen King (Paperback Writer...from hell #1)
We've been enjoying our The horror (comics)! The horror (comics)! series so much that we've decided to stretch out into the world of horror novels. Possibly at a later date we'll convince Matt to write about horror in music, starting with the complete discography of Freddy Kreuger's Ünderwear...
Cut to the chase, what the hell is this?
Okay, relax a little, you're being very intense. What we're going to do is focus each week on a horror writer or book that we find particularly interesting. No rhyme, no reason, just whatever's floating our horror boat at the time.
So, what better place to start than with a writer whose name is synonymous with horror and has dominated the landscape of novels and films since the 70s...
Or in Matt's words: Bastardo Terrible.
I am a massive fan of Stephen King. I have a bookcase dedicated entirely to the horror master. It's definitely obsessive and it's potentially unhealthy...
I ready my first Stephen King when I was stuck in Amsterdam airport with something like 10 euros and a lot of time to kill before my flight home. I trawled through the books on offer and found one called Blaze by a writer I had never heard of before: Richard Bachman. The premise looked interesting- a con-artist kidnaps a wealthy gentleman's baby with the help of his deceased friend and partner in crime. More important than the premise, I could afford this book and it was in English so I could also read it.
I'd finished Blaze by the time my plane landed in the UK and I now knew the identity of Richard Bachman (I mean, I should have known this before I bought the book...it wasn't exactly a secret by this point in time).
This was the start of my consumption of all things Stephen King. I tore through Salem's Lot, Misery, Bag of Bones, Cujo, Under the Dome. I was tearing through It at uni, until I misplaced the book and subsequently took a total of three years to finish it/It (I managed to misplace this book a total of four times)- I feel this drawn out reading of It actually helped my enjoyment because by the time I had reached the heartbreaking end of the novel, I felt like I had been on this long journey with the Loser's Club.
Picking a top five Stephen King's is a tricky thing for me to do (much like Matt and my Top 10 of the 10s where we agonized over an essentially meaningless list of our favourite horrors from the past decade). It also is a list that would be different depending on the day or which Stephen King I happen to be reading (I almost always have one on the go).
5. The Dark Tower series
Yes, I'm cheating! The problem is, I don't feel like I can separate the novels that make up this wonderful series. I also believe that Stephen King referred to the books as sections in an über-novel, so I think I can get away with this. It took me a few attempts to get into The Gunslinger, but I'm glad I persevered because it is such a rich story- Stephen King's initial inspiration being a combination of the Lord of the Rings and the Great American Novel. The journey you go on with Roland Deschain and his Ka-tet is wonderful- not to mention linked in numerous ways to many of Stephen King's other words, after all: there are other worlds than these...
4. The Stand
This is often the Stephen King that non-fans like. I think it might be a while before I re-read this doorstop epic which starts with a virulent plague which wipes out civilization as we know it (too close to reality) and descends into the age old struggle between Good and Evil.
3. Bag of Bones
Reading Bag of Bones for the first time coincided with my guitar teacher lending me the Complete Recordings of Robert Johnson. It still blows my mind listening to the greatest guitarist of all time (don't @ me) and there is a thick vein of blues in the plot of Bag of Bones. A grieving author hit with writer's block retreats to his summer house to regroup and restart his life after the sudden death of his wife, only to find himself in the midst of a ghost story. I re-read it last year and gained a new appreciation for how heartbreaking a story this is.
2. Salem's Lot
I love Dracula. I've adapted it twice as a play (once for Butterfly Theatre Company- I like the concept we had, but I didn't execute it well enough- and most recently for Elizabeth Samuels Drama School) and my battered copy is covered in notes from when I studied it at school. When I realised, early on in my Stephen King education, that the horror maestro had written his own version, I headed straight to the nearest bookshop and bought a copy. I love this book and I also love that Stephen King has talked/written about how he had an ending in mind for it from the beginning, but that the characters fought with him to stay alive.
This is the book I use to try and get people hooked on Stephen King. I had seen the film before reading the book and, as good as the film is (it's really great), the depth Stephen King is able to go into with Paul Sheldon and Annie Wilkes's relationship and the Scheherazade allusions make this an absolutely stunning book. I feel tense every time I read this.
To focus solely on Stephen King's novels doesn't do justice to the breadth of his writing.
Danse Macabre and On Writing are brilliant non-fiction books of his about writing and horror and he has proven himself time and again to be a master of short stories and novellas.
If I was forced to pick my favourite Stephen King novella I think I would struggle more than with his novels. I adore The Langoliers and I think every season in Different Seasons is utterly spellbinding.
And then there are the collaborations: Black House (with Peter Straub), In the Tall Grass (with his son, Joe Hill).
And the graphic novels: American Vampire, Cycle of the Werewolf (although this sits somewhere between comic/graphic novel, short story and picture book).
Just this week, Stephen King tweeted that the best unwritten idea he has had is for I Jason, a novel told from the perspective of iconic horror villain Jason Vorhees. Social media can be a pretty toxic place, but we can only hope that it works in our favour and forces this concept to become a reality...just imagine it...
Next up in our Paperback Writer from Hell series, we'll be looking at...
Yep, the writer of My Best Friend's Exorcism and the non-fiction Paperbacks from Hell that we unashamedly stole the series moniker from- more on that next time.