His Never Ending Fury: Stephen King at 70

It was Christine, Stephen King’s 1983 novel about a 1958 Plymouth Fury possessed by its dead owner, that made me a writer.  I read it during the fall of 1983, my freshman year in high school.  It wasn’t the first of King’s works I’d read; the previous summer, I’d checked Cujo out of the local library; before that, some time in seventh grade, I think, the little Scholastic literary magazine we received every month had reprinted King’s story, “Battleground” (edited, as you can imagine, for language [though not, as I recall, for violence]).  I had read Cujo in part because Patty Taylor, with whom I’d gone to St. Columba elementary school for a number of years, possibly as early as first grade, had been a die-hard King fan for at least a couple of years, possibly longer, and her devotion had made an impression on me, made me think I should have a look at one of King’s books.  There was also the sense that King was a more grown-up writer than I had been used to; I wasn’t sure in what way, but my parents, who hadn’t read him, expressed concern that he might be too mature for me (which, with the benefit of hindsight, I realize meant they were worried there might be a lot of bad language in his fiction).

Christine

What a cover, eh?

I’m not sure why I slipped Cujo from the library shelves; maybe it sounded less out and out intimidating than some of the other books?  Whatever the reason, I didn’t connect with the book.  I didn’t hate it; I just found the portrayal of its protagonists’ troubled marriage foreign emotional territory.  It wasn’t enough to put me off King altogether, though, which was why, later in the fall, when the paperback edition of Christine was released, I picked up a copy at the local Book & Record.  And man, what a difference.  I’ve talked in previous interviews about the way the book spoke to my bleeding adolescent heart, my sense of myself as an outsider, self-consciously smart, a nerd, a comic book fan, a teacher’s pet, as far from athletic as it seemed possible to be, as well as the manner in which the book’s villains embodied my caricatured sense of the kids who mocked and picked on me, the jocks and the more affluent students.  Don’t get me wrong:  even at the time, I understood that both the novel’s heroes and its villains were more exaggerated than both myself and my high school nemeses actually were.  But the book cut to the emotional core of my nascent high school experience with astonishing power.  Not to mention, the supernatural elements, which were as over the top and extravagant as anything I’d read in Robert E. Howard or Lloyd Alexander, and which culminated in a battle against the evil car that deliberately invoked the clash between a mounted knight and a monster, a dragon.  I read that book, and I loved it, and I would read it again and then a third time; before I was done with that first reading, however, I knew that this, writing, writing like this, was what I had to do.

That experience, of feeling yourself selected, picked out by a work of art to make similar art, is one that fascinates me.  You don’t find it in every writer’s biography; although Lovecraft talked about it in relation to Poe, and Ramsey Campbell in relation to Lovecraft, and King himself has spoken of it in relation both to Lovecraft and Richard Matheson.  It’s a sensation I’ve continued to experience over the years, every time I sit down with King’s latest novel or collection of stories, a combination of engagement and inspiration, a re-connection to what feels like one of the wellsprings of my own creativity.  It’s funny:  for reasons I can’t quite remember now, I was thinking the other day about the books I’ve continued to re-read over the years.  It’s a strange list:  The Good Soldier, The Great Gatsby, My Mortal Enemy, Great Expectations, The Portrait of a Lady, The Turn of the Screw, Heart of Darkness, Ghost Story,  and Koko are some of the titles on it, as are Pet Sematary, The Shining, Night Shift, Skeleton Crew, and Danse Macabre (I quote that last one all the time).  It says something profound to me about King’s work that it’s capable of sustaining that kind of repeated attention.

At the end of Christine, there’s the suggestion that the evil car has not been truly defeated, that it’s on its way for the novel’s protagonist.  It’s meant to be an unsettling image, and it is, but it’s the one I want to close this short birthday appreciation with, a figure for King’s ongoing importance to me and to so many other writers.  If it’s a little sinister, I’m sure he’d be fine with that.

 

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Diabetes

So:  I went to my doctor this past Thursday for my annual physical, and by the end of the exam had learned I have type 2 diabetes.

If I’m being honest, then looking back over the last eight to ten months, this isn’t the biggest surprise.  During that time, I’ve lost about thirty pounds, without any real effort on my part.  (And this after busting my hump at Tang Soo Do for five and a half years.)  I’ve also been tired pretty much all the time, and have felt genuinely physically awful.  I chalked some of this up to sleep apnea, some to allergies, but I’d also done the Web MD thing, and in addition to a host of horrifying cancers and Scottish sporan rot, had read that diabetes was a possible culprit.  Which isn’t to say that my doctor saying, “Yep, it’s diabetes,” wasn’t a shock, but not an unmitigated one, if you see what I mean.

At the moment, it’s still early days.  I’m checking my blood sugar four times a day and injecting fast-acting insulin when the reading’s too high.  I’m also taking a pill designed, in the words of the pharmacist, to tickle my pancreas.  And of course, my diet has changed, radically.  The good news is, my blood sugar has descended, if slowly, from its Olympian heights.  And I feel better than I have in a long, long time, which is more cheering than I can say.  I’m hoping this might mean I’ll be a bit more productive as a writer, too (I’m looking at you, Ellen Datlow).

I can’t help wanting to include a bit of the public service announcement here:  go to your doctor, take care of yourself, that kind of thing.  This past July, I turned 48, which is the age my father was when he had two heart attacks, one that put him in the hospital, and one shortly after he was admitted.  Even before this doctor’s visit, I was looking over my shoulder, wondering what might be headed my way.  Superstitious, but what are you gonna do?  After his health catastrophe, my dad had ten years to go.  I’m hoping for more.

Regrettably…

I’m going to have to miss this year’s Necronomicon Providence.  A combination of circumstances good and not so good are going to have me staying closer to home for August.  I’m sorry to miss what’s already become a favorite event, but I hope to be back in 2019, and possibly during the film festival in 2018.  In the meantime, be excellent to each other.

(Oh, and either Mike Griffin or Justin Steele will be taking over the room party duties this time around.)

NeCon Schedule

This weekend, I’ll be attending my very first NeCon.  If you happen to be there, here’s what the powers-that-be have me signed up to do:

 

Friday, July 21st

2:00 p.m.  Who Are You Calling Weird?: Weird Fiction in the New Century
Laird Barron, John Langan, Sandra Kasturi, Jack Haringa (M), Bob Boyczuk, Douglas Wynne
The more things change, the more they stay weird! Weird fiction dates back to the late 19th century, and the real world is a far different place now than when the subgenre began. So, just what’s “weird” in 2017?

 

Saturday, July 22nd

4:30 p.m.  Greater Than the Sum: Collections, Linked and Otherwise
Elizabeth Massie (M), John Langan, Ed Kurtz, John Urbancik, Matt Bechtel, Laird Barron
The art of writing short fiction is obviously far different than that of writing a novel. That said, putting together a collection is also far different than writing any one tale. And what about when the stories are linked by a common setting or overlapping characters? Our panelists discuss the Jenga-like process of constructing a single-author collection.

 

I’m very much looking forward to this; if you’re there, please say hello.

House of Windows: Take 2

Today is the official publication day of the new edition of my first novel, House of Windows.  This version comes with a new introduction by the brilliant Adam Nevill, an afterword on the writing of the novel, a reading group guide, and suggestions for further reading.  (I had intended to include a new story with the novel, but as I was writing it, it decided it wanted to be a novella.  *sigh*  So what I’m tentatively calling “The Banshee” will be arriving a bit later than I’d planned.)  Thanks very much to Jaime Levine and all the fine folks at Diversion books for giving my novel a second life.

Readercon 28 Schedule

Next weekend, I’ll be returning to one of my favorite conventions, the annual Readercon.  I’m looking forward to seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and taking part in what looks to be some fine programming.  In case you’re at the convention, or are thinking you might like to drop in, here’s my schedule.  If you’re there, please say hello.

Thursday July 13

8:00 PM    6    Footsteps in the Dark: The Sensory Range of Horror. F. Brett Cox (leader), John Langan, Darcie Little Badger, Elsa Sjunneson-Henry, Paul Tremblay. Horror is frequently thought of as a visual medium, and is often adapted for film and television. However, other senses are vitally important to the development of horror stories, and the experience of fear for the reader. Consider Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, which erased sight for the main characters, or the pounding in Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Consider also the recent uptick in films with disabled characters, such as the Deaf writer in Hush and the blind antagonist in Don’t Breathe. This panel will explore these and other works of multisensory horror, and address how writers can create vivid horror experiences for readers.

Friday July 14

4:00 PM    5    The Hidden Philosophies of Horror. Michael Cisco, Teri Clarke, Don D’Ammassa, Ellen Datlow, Maria Dahvana Headley (moderator), John Langan. Some works of horror imply that wickedness exists within everyone, and even the greatest heroes are doomed to succumb. Others seem to say that people are mostly good but poor choices with terrible consequences are inevitable. Supernatural horror and psychological horror often posit very different sources and types of evil. This panel will explore these and other philosophical concepts underlying various approaches to the horror genre.
5:00 PM    BH    The Deaths of Gods. Martin Cahill (leader), Greer Gilman, Max Gladstone, John Langan, James Morrow. In Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass series, two children literally kill God. In Victor Koman’s The Jehovah Contract, a hard-boiled PI is hired for the same job. Max Gladstone’s Craft books and Robert Jackson Bennett’s City trilogy explore the deaths of gods in polytheistic worlds. How do these narratives of mortals killing supposed immortals differ from ones where gods destroy one another? It’s too simplistic to think of these as atheist narratives; how do they explore the power of belief, and the intrusion of incontrovertible fact into a belief system?
8:30 PM    B    Reading: John Langan. John Langan. John Langan reads from an unpublished story forthcoming in his new collection, Sefira and Other Betrayals.

Sunday July 16

11:00 AM    5    Shirley Jackson Awards. F. Brett Cox, Jack Haringa, John Langan, Naomi Novik, Paul Tremblay. In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, the Shirley Jackson Awards have been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic. Jackson (1916–1965) wrote classic novels such as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The awards given in her name have been voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors, for the best work published in the calendar year of 2016 in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.
2:00 PM    6    Kafka-Klatch: When Old Becomes New. Michael Cisco, John Clute, John Langan, James Morrow, Eric Schaller. Franz Kafka is known primarily for stories that involve overpowering bureaucracies and intense absurdism and surrealism. Plenty of modern novels, such as Seth Dickenson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant, deal with the same type of all-powerful bureaucracy that Kafka is known for. What are we seeing now that is in conversation with Kafka’s work, and what can we learn from it in the absurd, surreal 21st century?