On Stephen King: A Reflection
By Gaetan Pappalardo
I circled the neighborhood looking for a place to park that wasn’t too, well…suspicious? I wasn’t breaking the law, even though I felt a little mischievous. Bangor, Maine in April is pretty desolate. I couldn’t hide in a crowd or park in a lot. The streets are wide. It’s quiet. I drove around the block a few times trying to gather the nerve to park, excitement growing with each pass. There’s no mistaking his house. He’s definitely not hiding from the public’s eye. The black gargoyles perched atop the wrought iron fence were a dead giveaway. Stephen King has lived here since 1980. He’s spent time in various locations in Maine throughout his life and also did a stint in Boulder, Colorado where he wrote The Shining, but Maine is his home.
When asked, “Why Bangor? Why did you pick this place to settle down and write?”
“It’s a magical place,” he said. “The people here have treated me as a human being, not as a freak. They treat me the way I feel about myself. Just an ordinary person doing a job and working hard at it.”
After a few laps and a few awkward stares by some random locals (I did have a huge Thule roof carrier on my car, which screams, “Tourist!”), I finally decided to park in a tiny strip-mall at the end of West Broad Street (his street). I’m sure many fans have visited his house before, taken the same route even, so my meager walk-by was no big deal. I walked up the street past a few landscapers prepping a lawn for the summer. I felt like an outsider, but I’m not sure I looked like one. University of Maine’s Orono campus was only a few miles from King’s house, so I could have passed as a college student: beard or no beard. King received an English degree from UMO in 1970 and taught high school English in Hampden, Maine. He wrote Carrie, his first published novel, while teaching. Carrie was published in 1974, the year I was born. We both turned forty this year.
As I approached the house the levy broke and memories flooded my skull. The red house of King, in which he wrote most of his stories, loomed over me. My mind reeled ––Salem’s Lot, It, Pet Semetary, Tommyknockers, Carrie, The Body (Stand by Me) Shawshank Redemption, The Stand, and The Green Mile. The characters, Which King carved so honestly (his bread and butter), flipped through my head like shuffling a deck of cards. However, the first King book I read, the book that started it all, was about the head honcho, the grand pooba, the guy, the dude, the author himself.
I read On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft the summer of 2007 during the Pennsylvania Writing and Literature Project writing institute. It was my first King book. I can’t remember the young lady who recommended the book, but I do remember the conversation. She said, “Stephen King likes to write to hard rock music.” I said, “Really?” She said, “Yes, it’s all in his book, On Writing.” That’s all I needed to know. I picked up the book that day and read it in a few days. Then, again right after with a pen and highlighter, marking all of my favorite sections and quotes.
Peering through the iron spider webs and fighting off the thought of being a stalker, I recalled one of my favorite sections of On Writing. My mind’s eye conjured the clumsy slab of wood King always wanted as a desk. He plunked that monstrosity in the middle of his writing room where he sat, most of the time stoned out of his gourd (he admits not remember writing Cujo), pounding the keys as if stuck on fast-forward. He was the center of his own little creative inebriated universe. However, reality hit him hard when he had to choose between the booze and the drugs or his family. He chose his wife and kids over addiction. He admits that his writing could have been a casualty of his rehab, but he also very adamantly states that he would rather see his kids grow up than write. I’m staring at the proof. A house. A home. I see cars still in the driveway probably from his kids and grandkids still visiting from Easter.
After his transformation into a sober writer, he replaced that hefty piece of wood with a more modest desk and placed it off center, under the eave (priorities have changed). And that change paid off.
On Writing changed me as a person and writer. I don’t think it was King’s suggestions on killing your adjectives and cutting weak, passive voice (Even though that helped my writing a great deal). It was more of the story of Stephen King, the person. King never sat around and planned to write a novel. He just did it. He did it for the sheer joy of writing. I’m sure deep down inside he wanted to be a published writer, but I don’t think he would have stopped writing if he never published. In the words of the poet, William Carlos Williams, “I think all writing is a disease. You can’t stop it.” I believe this.
King stands out in my career because he was the bridge to a new section of my writing life. I’ve never met Stephen King, but I do believe he’s given me the courage and the permission to go on, to just do it, whether my words find the world or just the blank page in my journal. He didn’t have to say a word (he’s already written thousands); he only has to be Stephen King, just a hard-working regular guy.
Which authors have unknowingly given you permission to just do it?
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King: “I Sleep With the Lights On” (Interview) View