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  • Tag Archives Nightmares and Dreamscapes
  • Around the Corner: An Essay on Stephen King

    Almost two decades. It’s weird to think that much time has passed since my mom bought me that hardcover of Nightmares and Dreamscapes Christmas of my twelfth year. Before this of course I was reading nothing but those Goosebumps books. They were all the rage with the middle school set back in… Jesus, was it really 1996? Did such a year really exist all those years ago? Did Pogs really exist? Were OK Soda, Sifl and Olly on MTV after school, and video stores really around? The memories are like old photographs from outdated cameras. Those pictures you used to have to shake to get a clear visual of. The ones you had to wait to see how they turned out.

    I remember it was hard to read. Not just because it was one of the very first adult books I’d ever delved into, only shortly after I’d read The Terminal Man by Michael Crichton. I mean it was literally hard to read, as the hardcover was heavy for my little twelve-year old forearms to lift.

    The First King

    I read most of that hardcover of Nightmares with the scarecrow on it on a trip my parents took from our home state of Massachusetts down to South Carolina. My grandparents had a time-share there, and to save money on airfare, my dad decided to drive down.

    I remember being in the back of a mini van, reading by a flashlight. Reading about the Ten O’ Clock People. I have no idea why, of all the stories in the collection, The Ten O’ Clock People is the one I remember most vividly. Perhaps, because it seemed so adult to a twelve-year-old. People on cigarette breaks from their adult jobs, except they were seeing these weird monsters that passed themselves off as human. In that strange way memory works, like those pictures you have to shake that sometimes didn’t come out, the only thing I really remember understanding from the story back then was that quitting cigarettes was hard, and that batmen could in fact be seen if you smoked cigs, and then tried to quit.

    Why I don’t remember about Dolan’s Cadillac as strongly is utterly beyond me. I was in a car reading it, you’d think that would be the one that stuck out. But I digress.

    To be frank, I remember the weight of Nightmares and Dreamscapes more than I remember the content of the book itself. Like the first time you learn to do something, how what you often remember is the first time you were proficient at it. Not how you finally learned how to stay up on that bike without training wheels, but rather the time you rode down the street to go get pizza with some friends.

    The first King book I really remember the plot of was ‘Salem’s Lot. I was huge into vampires, my mother having those Vampire Lestat books all over the house, and she waxing poetic on Dracula, and her no doubt reading me stories of vampires. So, when I went into a text by this really cool author who wrote about monsters and scary adult stuff, and it was about vampires, you can bet I was over the damn moon.

    I still remember the cover was a pale vampire, with fangs out, and neon purple outlining his face, against the black. It was the Signet edition. I remember being really creeped out by the town, by the Martsen house. My family had moved from a house on a busy street in another town, to a larger house on a quiet street in a very rural town. The move no doubt had a lot to do with the resonance the novel had with me.

    By that summer I was verily King obsessed. And, it was time for my family to go on our yearly summer vacation to the Samoset Resort in Rockport, Maine.

    I grew up in Massachusetts. Yes, we’re a state in New England, but well, we’re not like Maine. Maine is a way bigger state. And, most importantly, Maine has some woods you can really, truly get lost in. Maine has small towns sorta like Jersusalem’s Lot. Not that they’re full of vampires, but they are very small.

    There’s a different vibe to the state. Things move slower. Or, maybe people from Massachusetts are just really hyper. Who knows? Point is, you can’t spend any time in Maine without hearing something about Stephen King. Hell, I’d argue you can’t go anywhere in New England without hearing something about him. But, back in the 90s, you really couldn’t escape his looming shadow.

    For the first time, in that summer of my twelfth year, I noticed there was a picture of Stephen King in the lobby of The Samoset Resort. He had those signature coke bottle glasses on, the frames of which seem to be a favorite among serial killers and computer programmers if you go through pictures of either from the late 80s and 90s. For some reason he also had a mustache, a green button up shirt, and green cowboy boots. I’m not making this up, if you ever happen by The Samoset Resort in Maine, go check.

    At some point that year my mom told me her friends used to be neighbor’s with the Kings in Maine. They told her how he owned a pink Cadillac he kept in the driveway, and how there was a black iron fence with bats on the top outside the house.

    My grandfather on my mom’s side grew up in Maine, too. We’re pretty close, gramps and me.

    So, you see, all of these things, my relatives and my mom’s friends from Maine, our yearly vacation to a resort in Maine King had, it turned out, visited, and my budding young imagination, everything combined that summer to put me in the prime head space for The Gunslinger, the first book in The Dark Tower series.

    The Gunslinger hit me like a slap to the face. I was never one of those kids that liked cowboys before this. And suddenly here’s this story about a desert, and a mythical cowboy with hands fast as lighting. Here’s this story about a man in black, a magician who wants to set The Dark Tower to toppling, destroying everything. For the Tower is everything, friends. It holds up our very existence on it. And here’s me, reading about a boy named Jake, who wakes up in Roland’s universe. Jake, who was alive in New York City, until he was pushed into traffic and died.

    I became Jake that summer. And King himself was Roland. I was following the path of the beam; a path this man who grew up not so very far away from where I grew up wrote about. And I got the sense that King was never very far off, you understand? It sounds very silly, but it almost seemed that summer like I was meant to read The Gunslinger.

    I finished The Gunslinger, and needed to read more of the books in the series. I needed to read more Stephen King. I became down right fanatical.

    It all started with that one book my mom probably bought me for Christmas because she wanted to encourage me to read. I’m sure she didn’t think that two decades later, I’d have two tattoos on my body dedicated to King’s fiction. I’m sure she didn’t think I’d spend so much time and energy reading so much Stephen King.

    You see, the power of Stephen King has always been that he has put himself into his stories. King has never been afraid to get personal with his fiction. But I would argue another layer of the onion, once peeled, is that for people in New England, especially in the 90s, King was like a rock star, like an actor, like a famous athlete. King was always around the corner, you understand? He always seemed like you might see him at a Red Sox game, or see him getting an orange Crush at a gas station at a rest stop somewhere in the middle of nowhere New Hampshire. So, when you get someone who is so honest with their fiction, throwing so much of themselves into it, and then you come to find out he likes to ham it up in credit card ads, and likes to see his picture in the magazines, and likes to cameo in some of the adaptations of his work into films, or mini series…

    I still feel like he’s just around the corner. I don’t think that feeling will ever go away, to be honest. And, I’m also not sure if I should be thrilled, or a little irked out by this feeling. After all, this is also a guy who wore serial killer glasses for many, many, many years before finally switching them up. This is a guy who, when he was about the age I was when I got Nightmares and Dreamscapes, used to collect newspaper clippings of killer Charles Starkweather.

    Deep down, down where the memories sit in an album on a shelf in my mind, I know the important thing is the feelings his fiction evoked in me; is the way the fiction, and learning about the man made me feel about myself. The importance of Stephen King in my life, particularly in the 90s, was, and has always been, that he’s made me realize the power of the imagination, and the power of image. The reason King’s fiction was so pivotal, and say, Crichton’s was not, is that Crichton never seemed like he could have been someone like me.

    Almost two decades, man. So many words. So many books. That’s a lot of time. That’s a life time for some.

    You might be wondering, so what? So a horror nerd got a good PR team, and you ate it right up, so what’s the big deal, who cares?

    I gotta’ be like one of those hippies from Woodstock in my response. You had to be there, man. I can’t really explain it to you.


  • Night Shift By Stephen King Made me Want to be a Writer

    Follow me if you will, back through the years to a Christmas, when I was either eleven or twelve years old (so I can’t remember my exact age at the time, I was a preteen, that’s what is important!). It was right around the time when I stopped wanting to read Goosebumps books. Though, I can not deny that the Goosebumps series was a stepping stone to the works of Stephen King. To give you a booze analogy, Goosebumps was like my first beer, which led me to try the hard stuff; said hard stuff being the hardcover addition of “Nightmares and Dreamscapes”, I got that Christmas morning. It was the first Stephen King book I got, and it was a short story collection. I still have my copy of it too, and I’m convinced that if anyone breaks into my apartment, it will be my best means of defense. It must have been downright comical, to watch a skinny little Sean, lug around that huge beast of a book. And, admittedly, I was young, so I didn’t understand a lot of it.

    I could have lied, and just said I was twelve, and not admitted to a case of the fuzzies; it sure would have made my memories sound more credible. But, I have a hard time lying. In the interest of being truthful, I will admit that the next book I got by Stephen King was “Salem’s Lot”. I will add this, despite the fact that my article would be much more concise if I just lied and said the next book I got was “Night Shift”. Make no mistake, “Salem’s Lot” had a profound impact on my wee little noggin. I loved, and still love that novel. I read the version with a purple cover, that was put out by Signet.

    So, I plowed through “Salem’s Lot”, and it was the start of my obsession with Mr. King’s fiction. Yet, it was the next book I bought that really doomed me to the life of a horror fiction nerd. And, that book, was “Night Shift”. The edition I read was also put out by Signet.

    “Night Shift” is still my favorite of all the short story collections put out, but when I read it all those years ago, I just knew that something about the style of fiction clicked with me. It was like a light bulb finally lit up in my brain. Though I’d be lying if I said I knew after reading the book that I wanted to be a writer. In truth, I wasn’t positive that I even wanted to write until around the age of twenty. Yeah, I’d written papers for school, and even the occasional poem. And, I knew I had a gift with writing. Whenever I’d sit to write a poem, I’d be able to crank one out in less than ten minutes. That’s not why I knew I had a gift with writing; if amount of time put in dictated talent, I’d easily be one of the best. What can I say, like the Motorhead song goes, I was built for speed. No, the way I knew I had at least a passing talent for writing, was quite simply because it was the easiest thing for me to do. In point of fact, I’m much better at expressing myself on the page than I am in real life. If the writing ever does take off (I’m fine if it never does, by the by) I’m terrified that people will think I can’t possibly be the man responsible for the fiction. I’m sure in every spoken interview, I’ll sound like an idiot, and will “oh”, and “um”, and “like” my way into dumb infamy.
    Man, can you tell that my mind wanders? If you were in my head, you’d know that every thought is racing around at roughly 100 mph (cough ADD). Okay, time to rope this article back in. Woo doggies, go back towards the main point, you restless colts!
    “Night Shift” contains the single most disturbing story I’ve ever read; the story that has made me lose the most sleep out of any I’ve read, in my 27 years on dis planet. Said story is “The Boogeyman”, and I don’t want to spoil it for you, so just go track it down if you’re interested.
    “Night Shift” also contains one of my favorite stories of all time, “Jerusalem’s Lot”. I’m telling you right now, if I ever am in a position to get something adapted, I will bust my ass to make “Jerusalem’s Lot” into a movie, set during the time discussed in the tale. This is an idle threat, as what are the odds of that? The story takes place in what later came to be known as “Salem’s Lot”. It is a great story, so go read that one too!
    I don’t think there is one story in this collection I don’t love to death. It has the story “Graveyard Shift” which was later adapted into a movie (the story is way better). It has the story “Children of the Corn” and duh, that was adapted too. It has all sorts of beautifully twisted tales sure to keep you up past yah bedtime.
    So, how do I know that it was this book that really planted the seed inside me, to want to be a writer? That’s easy; every time I am stressed, or lonely, or depressed, I revisit it. Every time I revisit it, I am reminded of the feelings it elicited within me, when I first read it. It chilled me, but it also excited me. It made me want to read as much horror fiction as I could get my hands on. And, it was the first book I remember reading, and thinking, even if idly, in a “this is a pipe dream” kind of a way; “You know, I wish I could write stories like this someday”.
    I kind of buried this dream, and for many years, I switched back and forth with what I wanted to do with my life. I guess, it was because for many years, I assumed I was too stupid to be a writer. Now that I’ve read a lot more, I know that this is quite a silly thought indeed, especially considering the kind of writers that have made it big lately (cough Twilight series).
    For quite a few years, I simply wanted to be a skateboard videographer. I skateboarded much more, and I knew I loved movies, so it seemed like the best option for a dummy like me. In college, I decided I wanted to make movies. I still want to, I’m just realistic now, and I know it will take a great many years, and dollars, to get that dream offa da ground. I learned how to screen write, and I wrote a few scripts. They…well, I’m not busting my ass to shop them, let’s put it that way.
    And then, my sophomore year of college, around 20, i had a girlfriend, who had an ex who had written her a short story. I read it, and it was positively dreadful. I knew I could write a better one, even with my complete lack of short story writing. So, I wrote my first story for my first girlfriend. Yes, my first girlfriend was in college, and no I don’t care to elaborate as to why it took me so long to get into my first real relationship. The story was about a man who wakes up covered in blood. He checks, and discovers the blood is not his own. He then wanders through the house, and this was where the story got confusing, even to me. I was never sure in my head if the house was his house, or someone else’s house. Afterwards, I wrote a little script version of the story, and it got really insanely convoluted, and involved lady twins, and deception; all sorts of needless crap. I’m glad I never tried to film it.
    Whatever, long story short, in the short story, this man wakes up in someone else’s blood, searches house, and opens fridge at end. Big twist, he finds the girl he was with.
    Dun Dun Duunnnnn!
    Meh, it wasn’t great, but it was the first thing I wrote. And, what was important, was that it showed me I could write fiction, out of the screenplay format.
    So, flash forward to now, and I’ve written a book (it’s barely 200 pages, so it is just barely a novel) that I may or may not try to shop later on down the line. I have a few stories accepted for publication. I desperately, desperately, desperately need an editor. For real, I have a learning disability, so sometimes it’s hard for me to notice my mistakes, or even realize my mistakes. For many years, I barely understood many of the basic rules of grammar. So, I just learned by imitation; I read a lot, so that was how I knew what a sentence looked like. I could be disappointed in my lack of knowledge of the fundamentals, but I’m not. Hey, I made it this far, and I barely understood what the rules were, imagine how much better I’ll be when I actually have them down!
    This all started with a preteen with a scary short story book. No matter what I end up doing, I will always be a writer. At this point, I don’t think I could not write. Even when I don’t feel like writing stories, I’ll end up working on a story anyway, or at the very least, a poem. So, even if I end up abandoning a desire to make money off of the writing, there will always be the writing. It is a part of me, ingrained as surely as my memories.
    I won’t be the first to admit Stephen King’s influence, nor will I be the last. But, I have to give credit, where credit is due.
    Thank you Stephen King, for all of the hours you have entertained me, and inspired me. Thank you, for helping a learning disabled boy to be motivated to read, in the important early years.
    Most of all, thank you for instilling within me a love of fiction, that will never die.