On Writing by Stephen King

“If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time or the tools to write.” 

While I have always been a fan of Stephen King, I had no idea he had written a memoir about the craft of writing itself until very recently. Published in 2000, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft delves into King’s thoughts and philosophies on writing and how his life experiences have contributed to his own craft.

King aptly titles the first half of this memoir “CV,” which details significant moments and experiences in his life that have shaped him into the writer he is today. While I was surprised at some of the traumatic experiences he recounted as both a child and young man, I was admittedly more surprised to read about how many rejection letters King received when he first started writing science fiction stories. It is mind-boggling to think that Stephen King, a staple name in the horror genre, experienced so much rejection when he first started out. Consequently, I was extremely inspired by his perseverance to continue writing, despite countless setbacks. For him, writing wasn’t (and isn’t) a job – he is truly passionate about the craft and it is a part of who he is.

In the second half of the memoir, titled “On Writing,” King reflects upon the craft of writing itself. He definitely isn’t afraid to say what he thinks (NOT a fan of adverbs or passive voice!), but gives much encouragement to the aspiring writers who read this book. I found it absolutely fascinating to see inside the mind of one of the most brilliant and prolific authors of our time – not only through the lens of an autobiography, but also through the lens of how and why he writes the way he does. One of the most engrossing sections of this book for me was when he described how he plans and details his plots… he doesn’t! He describes his process as starting with a “what if” question and, if the situation arising from that question is strong enough, he lets his characters lead him through the actual writing of the story. How amazing is that? Some examples he gives in the text include the following:

  • What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (‘Salem’s Lot)
  • What if a policeman in a remote Nevada town went berserk and started killing everyone in sight? (Desperation)
  • What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo)

Overall, I found this memoir to be a captivating read and would highly recommend it for both aspiring writers and fans of King alike!

Virtual Book Club – ‘The Institute’ on September 16

Have you joined the Virtual Book Club yet? On Wednesday, September 16th at 2pm, Virtual Book Club will be discussing The Institute by Stephen King. This program meets virtually every week to discuss a book using GoTo Meeting. Information about how to join is listed at the end of this post.

Curious what The Institute is about? Check out the following description provided by the publisher.

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents, telekinesis and telepathy, who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, like the roach motel, Kalisha says. ‘You check in, but you don’t check out.’ In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don|t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute. As psychically terrifying as Firestarter, and with the spectacular kid power of It, The Institute is Stephen King’s gut-wrenchingly dramatic story of good vs. evil in a world where the good guys don’t always win.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Virtual Book Club – The Institute by Stephen King
Wed, Sep 16, 2020 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM (CDT)

Please join my meeting from your computer, tablet or smartphone.
https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/792093261

You can also dial in using your phone.
United States: +1 (224) 501-3412

Access Code: 792-093-261

New to GoToMeeting? Get the app now and be ready when your first meeting starts:
https://global.gotomeeting.com/install/792093261

Joyland by Stephen King

Recently, I went on a road trip and I wanted to listen to an audiobook during the long drive. My travelling companion brought Stephen King’s Joyland. I was not thrilled. I have not read a Stephen King book for quite awhile and I imagined that I was going to listen to another book about some weird creepy monsters. As you might guess, books about monsters are not the books that I typically read anymore. So, as I put the CD in the car, I told myself to give it a chance. Maybe I would enjoy this book.

I’m glad that I gave it a chance.

Joyland is not a book about weird creepy monsters. Our narrator, Devin Jones, tells us the story of the summer when he was 21 years old. The year was 1973. Devin was a college student at the University of New Hampshire. While he was looking through the help wanted section, he saw a listing for an amusement park in North Carolina. The park was called Joyland. Devin’s girlfriend encourages him to apply for the job, telling him that it will be an adventure. So Devin takes the bus down to Joyland to apply for the job. One carny, Lane Hardy, has worked at Joyland for years. He gives Devin pointers on where to eat and tells him about a boardinghouse he can live at during the summer. Lane lets Devin ride the Carolina Spin (the Ferris Wheel). Devin enjoys the view of the beach and the ocean. He knows that he wants to work at Joyland. When Devin goes to the boardinghouse, his new landlady tells him about a ghost story at the amusement park. A few years earlier, a young woman named Linda Gray was murdered in the Funhouse of Fear. Some people claim that they saw her ghost while they were on the ride.

When Devin comes back to North Carolina for the summer, he meets the other boarders at the house. Tom and Erin are also college students working at Joyland for the summer. The trio quickly become friends and they work on the same team at the park. Devin’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he is heartbroken. Devin drops a lot of weight and the staff at the park become concerned about him. Lane Hardy tells Devin that he needs to eat. Devin finds that Lane is a helpful guy and the two have many positive interactions. Lane may be carny and Devin a greenie, but it is clear that Lane likes the kid.

One day, Devin, Erin and Tom have the day off. They decide to go to Joyland to check out the Funhouse of Fear and see if they spot the ghost of Linda Gray. Devin and Erin have a good time on the ride but Tom does not. He reveals that he saw Linda Gray and refuses to speak about it. Devin asks Erin to research Linda Gray when she goes back to college. Devin decides to stay at Joyland and mend his broken heart. Erin comes back to visit Devin in October. She reveals that there were other murders at other amusement parks. She finds pictures of Linda Gray and her killer at Joyland. Something about the pictures bothers Devin but he cannot figure out what is troubling him.

After the amusement park is closed for the summer, Devin meets a woman and her son. They live in a large house on the beach. At first, the woman, Annie, is distant even though Mike tries to engage Devin. One day, Annie and Mike are struggling to fly a kite. Devin offers to help and is able to get the kite in the air. Mike is overjoyed and Annie warms up to Devin. They develop a friendship. Devin quickly figures out that Mike has some psychic abilities when Mike is able to answer Devin’s unspoken questions. The fortune teller at Joyland had told Devin that he would meet a kid with the Sight. This ability proves to be useful to Devin.

Joyland was not the typical Stephen King horror story. If you were a fan of Stephen King’s novella, “The Body” in the book Different Seasons, you will like Joyland. If you do not remember the story, “The Body”, then you might remember the movie that it was based on, Stand By Me. Joyland is full of mystery and suspense and the tone is nostalgic. The audiobook narrator, Michael Kelly, has a great voice to listen. I highly recommend listening to this one.