Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Stephen King

John McFetridge

This week I'm on a family vacation and tonight we're stopping in Maine so that makes me think of Stephen King -- and Patrick Shawn Bagley, but mostly Stephen King.

I haven't read every Stephen King novel but I've read a lot of them and I really like them. When we talk about writing we always say it's really about the characters and Stephen King gets into the hearts and souls of more characters than any other writer. And these are characters I can relate to, characters we might call, "everday." When the world ends in a Stephen King novel the survivors are never black belt, super secret assasins who've been in deep cover, they're a nerdy kid with pimples and a truck driver and a waitress.

As we drove through Maine today my wife and I were telling our two sons the story of The Stand but then I told them the story of when I first read The Stand.

It was the late 70's and I was working as a night shift security guard in an office building in Calgary (I was very young, like a six year old secuirty guard, really, someone should have called a social worker). I clocked in at 11pm and was the only person in the building until 7am. So one night I arrived and sat at my desk in the quiet lobby and started reading The Stand. On the first page the car crashes at the garage and the virus is let loose. By three o'clock in the morning when I was supposed to do my rounds of the empty building most of the people in the world had died and the survivors were moving west.

I put the book down and walked through the lobby, my footsteps echoing like they nevr had before and I pressed the button for the elevator. Of course the damned thing was already on the main floor so the bell rang right away and I just about dropped a load. The doors opened and I got on the elevator. I rode up to the top floor. I was supposed to get off the elevator and check every floor but the top couple floors of the building were still being finished and looked like the constuction site they were. Or, they looked as if they'd been trashed.

And from the elevator I could see all the way out the windows and at that time Calgary was going through one of its boom periods and was very much a work in progress. There were a dozen half-built highrises and a dozen more like the one I was working in that were half-filled. So the whole city looked half-built.

Or half destroyed.

I decided the the whole building was fine and rode the elevator straight down to the lobby.

In fact, for the next month I decided the building was fine and never left the lobby.

Right up until the day I left at 7am and got called by my boss a couple hours later wanting to know why I didn't know a homeless guy was sleeping on the couch in the lobby of a law firm. Apparently he'd been in the bathroom when the building closed and he made himself at home.

It was time I looked for another job anyway.

That effect Stephen King has on readers is why he's a great writer.

So, anyone else care to share a story about reading Stephen King?


Matthew McBride said...

I started reading Stephen King way before I was old enough to be reading Stephen King. I think I was 9. Maybe 10. Not sure exactly, but I was young.

The first King book I ever read was Salem's Lot. Ah yes, the tale of... was it Ben Mears?? It's been over twenty years, but I can still remember things that stand out here and there.

One in particular is a scene where, and I can't remember who, perhaps it was Ben himself, cut off the bottom stairs on a stair case. Cut off the hand railing and everything. Then he busted out the light bulb so you couldn't see where you were going. Last but not least, he planted a bunch of sharp knives in the floor of the basement somehow.

When the bad guy made his way down the steps, he had the misfortune of falling to his death. At least I think he died. Either way it hurt.

While I can't exactly remember specifics, the point is, THAT scene in the story has stuck with me for 20+ years. And honest to God, every single time I walk down an old creepy set of steps, I see this playing through my mind and I use a little extra caution as I make my descent.

The truth is, King has inspired a lot of writers. Whether they realize it or not. He was probably the starting point for a lot of us.

Naomi Johnson said...

I started reading Stephen King when Salem's Lot was published. Flash forward a bit and Night Shift has just come out. I was all over it, so much so that when the office gang departed early for a softball gang and someone had to stay and cover the phones, I volunteered, knowing I'd be able to get into the book with many interruptions. Got as far as The Bogeyman story. That story pushed every fear button I'd ever had up to that time. Too scared to keep reading with no one else in the building, I actually did some work just to get my mind off my inner terrors. Thanks, Stephen King, for making me look like a complete brown nose.

David Cranmer said...

You didn't think of me here in Maine, John. I'm deeply hurt.


King. I've read almost all his books and the one that stands out is Misery. Good lord that was brilliant writing. He left me on edge if the author was going to make it or not.

Joelle Charbonneau said...

Like Matt, I started reading Stephen King before Middle School. I started with Firestarter. My mother was never a reader, but my intense reactions to reading Misery made her pick up the book. She finished it two days later.

Gerald's Game was the one that really sticks with me. I hated and loved that book. I kept closing it vowing to stop reading, but I couldn't. King had sucked me in and I had to keep turning the pages to the end. Damn him!