Why will I never send this letter? First, because I feel weird about “fan” stuff. I’ve never written a fan letter to anyone in my entire life. Whatever illusions I had about the mystique of celebrities was soundly beaten out of me during my ten year stint in the film business. Second, (and maybe this is the bigger reason), I hate the thought of my heartfelt words being vetted by an assistant or an employee, and then maybe being passed on to the intended recipient…or not. A form letter response would depress me and make me wish that I’d never bothered. Not to suggest Mr. King would pass off fan mail to an employee, but I’m guessing he gets an awful lot of it.
Yes, I’m posting this publicly but, let’s be honest, the chances of Stephen King ever seeing this blog post are about the same as the chances of the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup.
So, here it is…
Dear Mr. King,
Let me start by saying that I don’t want to make you feel old but the first time I read one of your books I was fourteen. The book was Christine and I loved it, even if a boy in my English class would say, “Christine, pure evil”, every time I walked by. My name is spelled Kristene, but pronounced like Christine, and that is what passed for humour among teen boys, go figure.
Christine was the start of my teen love-affair-bordering-on-mild-obsession with your writing. I was a voracious reader and you could not produce books fast enough for me, which meant I read the ones I owned until the covers fell off. As I recall, I wrote a book report on Different Seasons, which remains one of my all-time favourites. Back in junior high, I didn’t know your writing was trudging, cliché, repetitive, or lowbrow, I just loved how you wrote about characters I felt I knew and kept me turning pages at the speed of light. There’s something to be said about ignorance and bliss, isn’t there?
I arrived at university with the goal of becoming a highschool teacher and, perhaps one day, a famous novelist just like you! It didn’t take me long to figure out that if I wanted to be taken seriously among my peers in my English courses your name should never pass my lips. (Unless it was followed by the words trudging, cliché, repetitive, or lowbrow). I studied Chekov, Atwood, Shakespeare, and other “real” writers. I liked some of their stories, though I pretended to like them far more than I really did. I pretended to understand the symbolism of the bureau in The Cherry Orchard. I tried to emulate the styles of “real” writers in my own work. I was bored and frustrated. I eventually dropped out – conveniently, at the same time the university suggested I should leave.
Well, you can take the girl out of the university but you can’t take the university out of the girl. Publicly, I continued to read Great Works of Literary Fiction. Privately, I read The Stand, The Tommyknockers, Misery. I worked a crappy, early morning shift at a fitness club for awhile and snuck in pages of IT during those long, dark, spells when there was nothing to do but stare at the two crazies on the treadmill at 5:30am. That, by the way, is the first time I ever read a novel that actually scared me so badly I was afraid to turn the next page.
My mom died of cancer when I was 28. It was the first time I’d ever seen a dead body and it made me remember the scene in “The Body”, the one where those kids found the young boy who’d been struck and killed by a train. Great works of Literary Fiction talk about death a lot but none of them came as close to my own experience as your story – that odd sense of detachment and reverence. The realization that my childhood was well and truly over.
I almost gave up books and writing entirely for awhile, even yours. In one of those weird took the road less traveled by moments, I decided to become a stuntwoman. The gym was my new home. When I wasn’t at the gym, I was on set, or doing some other kind of stunt training, or eating carrots and Hydroxycut pills so I could double anorexic actresses. It was a pretty exciting job, (far more fun than trying to understand the symbolism of bureaus), and guess what? I actually got to work on the film version of Dreamcatcher. Not one of the better adaptations of your novels, sorry, but we all had a good laugh at the “shit weasels”.
My husband was a stuntman, too. He doesn’t read much fiction, and I don’t think he’s ever understood why I do, but he’s never made me feel bad about admiring your work. This says a lot about the kind of man he is and why I’ve always known we would be lifers.
After going walkabout in 2003, I returned to my once-voracious reading habits and now I had a laptop to write on. (Wow, I wish we’d had those when I was fourteen.) I started writing in earnest. A year later, I announced that I was going to try and make a living at this writing thing, at long last. I was terrified, mostly that someone would figure out what a huge fraud I was. After all, I didn’t have a college or university degree, I still didn’t know what the bureau in The Cherry Orchard meant, and I had a box full of Stephen King novels hidden away. How could anyone take me seriously?
I joined a writing group. I asked if there were any books about writing I should read. Someone said I should pick up a copy of On Writing. I did.
I have read On Writing so many times, and have dog-eared so many pages, the poor thing is falling to pieces. The snippets of your life were as fascinating as any of your novels, and your practical advice about the craft of writing was spot on. It’s still the only how-to book I recommend to every new writer. But, most of all, you gave me permission to write what I wanted to write, the way I wanted to write it. My one and only attempt at a Great Work of Literary Fiction got stuffed in a drawer. Now I write about inter-dimensional pirates and women with gills.
I don’t have a lot of heroes but you’re one of them, Mr. King. If for no other reason than because you do what you love no matter what anyone else thinks of it. Oh, did I mention I indie published my first novel? Well, I and my writing partner, Josh, indie published our first novel. We followed the traditional route first—got a good agent, watched the manuscript go out to all the big publishers, read the very complimentary rejection letters. After that, we decided to do it ourselves. I like to think we did it right but there’s still that giant stigma around self publishing that hovers over my shoulder. Do I have to tell you how cool it was to read that you were going to self publish The Plant online? You, of all people. You! You can be accused of many things, Mr. King, but the need for vanity press publishing is not among them.
Look, not all your books are great, and you know that. So do I. And, okay, maybe you’re a bit repetitive sometimes. None of that has stopped me from reading and loving your books, and it never will. I read them in public now, by the way. I no longer qualify my appetite for genre fiction with statements like, “I know lots of people think Stephen King isn’t really great fiction but…”. Your books are out of the box and sitting on my bookshelf. After 30 years, I’m proud to call myself a Constant Reader.
Thanks for everything and please don’t stop writing.