Wednesday, July 1, 2009

People Are Never What You Think

I just finished reading a biography of Stephen King, Haunted Heart, written by Lisa Rogak. I really only picked it up because I'm participating in my library's adult summer reading program which involves following a bingo list of various genres. It is managing to stretch me as a reader.

I was a huge fan back in the day of Carrie and The Shining, but fell away as King's novels became more gruesome and less "ghost story" to me. King is nothing like I, or my friends who were also fans, thought. We assumed he had to be a bit twisted to come up with his stories, and he sure looks that way; I discovered he has pretty much been labeled that way. After you read this biography his appearance becomes that of a gangly, goofy, and nerdy type of guy...a regular guy; he just happened to love horror films starting with the 50's classics and was writing stories for his classmates and his mother (who paid him a quarter for each one) at a very young age.

Except for the fact that his father literally went to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes and never came back, and aside from the fact that he did struggle with addiction for many years, he could live next door to you. As far as his writing goes, my inference after reading the bio is that he struggled a bit with not being as accepted into the "literary" circles as were other authors; but it seems he eventually gained that respect at least some of the time.

He was prolific no doubt, and I remember losing respect for him when he published book after book after book. Apparently, he really was just a writer whose work just naturally poured out of him. It was his process. Achieving financial success had to have been a great thing for him and thus his wife (who is also an author), and his three kids (two of whom are writers), after the life of extreme poverty he himself endured as a youngster. There were a number of times when he appeared and was paid, and gave the money right back; or published something new, only to give the proceeds to charity. He was a dad who coached his son's baseball team, and he gave the money to build a nice place for them to play in Maine where they live (part of the time).

He has a great sense of humor even in the midst of the macabre. I think that comes out in his stories...and you have to respect his story telling ability and imagination even if you don't like horror (which by the way isn't the only thing he writes). One of the funniest moments in Haunted Heart is when he is recuperating from the accident which nearly killed him; the nurses on duty were strictly told NOT to make any Misery jokes as he lay in bed waiting for his severely damaged leg to heal.

Reading about him also reminded me of my feelings about how middle Americans aren't really heard (previous post). He was someone who protested the Vietnam War which at the time was a rebelious thing to do, yet all along he has had rather conservative values in some ways. His daughter is a lesbian, yet his conservative side obviously didn't interfere with his acceptance of her. He isn't one of those conservatives. One of my favorite things he said is in reference to God.

"The idea of using God as a character in Desperation was the engine that made the book go. While I don't see myself as God's stenographer, He's always been in my books. It depends on the people I'm writing about. So I thought, what if I treat God and the accoutrements of God with as much belief, awe, and detail as I have treated evil. Some people say the God stuff really turns them off, but these guys have had no problems with vampires, demons, golems, and werewolves in the past. I've always believed in God. I also think that the capacity to believe is the sort of thing that either comes as part of your equipment, or at some point in your life when you're in a position where you actually need help from a power greater than yourself, you simply make an agreement to believe in God because it will make your life easier and richer to believe than not to believe. So I choose to believe."

I'm now inspired to go back and try many (and there is a lot) of the things I've missed from him, as well as try some of the things his wife and sons have also produced.

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