Stephen King: A Top-Ten List

A few weeks ago, the Honey Badger put up a list of his top-ten works by Stephen King.  Since reading it, I’ve been thinking about compiling my own list of favorite King works.  The problem is, King is part of my writing DNA in a way distinct from almost any other writer.  It was because of reading his Christine during the fall semester of my freshman year of high school that I was set on the path to becoming a horror writer.  After I discovered his work, I read and re-read it over and over again, learning something new from it each time.  There are things he’s written that are engraved on my bones.  So no surprise:  once I sat down to puzzle the matter out, trying to limit my favorites to ten proved much more difficult than I had expected.  Not to mention, there are several of King’s more recent works that I still haven’t gotten to.  Here’s a list, then, that is both reasonably accurate and completely unsatisfying:

1.  Night Shift

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2.  Skeleton Crew

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3.  Different Seasons

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4.  Full Dark, No Stars

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5.  Just After Sunset

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6.  Hearts in Atlantis

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7.  The Stand

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8.  The Shining

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9.  Pet Sematary

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10.  The Dark Tower II:  The Drawing of the Three

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The list is accurate because these are works to which I’ve returned time and again, and which have stuck with me in the years (in some cases) since last I read them.  It’s unsatisfying because it might consist of another ten works with equal accuracy.  It’s interesting to me to note how many of my choices are books of King’s stories.  I think it was Harlan Ellison who said, some years ago, that it was in King’s stories that you found his greatest accomplishments.  I’m not sure I’d completely buy that, but there’s an awful lot of good stuff in a book like Night Shift or Skeleton Crew.

People’s mileage with King tends to vary, the way it seems to with Tolkien.  I love his stuff, and can’t wait to get back to it.

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Boskone 52!

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In about a month, I’ll be driving east to participate in the 52nd annual Boskone.  It’s been a couple of years since my last Boskone, and I’m very much looking forward to it.  This is my schedule:

Great Horror for Teens and Tweens

Saturday 11:00 – 11:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Teen fiction is more than BFFs, family issues, and dystopias. A whole lot more. There is a world of dark and dangerous beings who walk the night and infest the pages of teen and tween horror. Panelists share the books that inspired them to love reading and writing horror. Does adult and teen horror differ? Is there a line that should or shouldn’t be crossed? What new stories are coming out that you should be reading?

John Langan (M), Christopher Golden, Jack M. Haringa, Sarah Langan, Paul G. Tremblay

Autographing: Jeffrey Carver, John Langan, Marjorie Liu, Michael Swanwick

Saturday 13:00 – 13:50, Galleria-Autographing (Westin)

Jeffrey A. Carver, John Langan, Michael Swanwick, Marjorie Liu

The Children of Metamorphosis

Saturday 16:00 – 16:50, Marina 4 (Westin)

A hundred years ago, Gregor Samsa awoke from uneasy dreams to find himself transformed into a gigantic dung beetle. Franz Kafka was a fairly obscure writer at the time, but his fiction has since helped to transform literature as it challenged preconceptions about what could be done and how it might be done. What other stories of personal “metamorphosis” have since been published that echo or reflect Kafka’s masterpieces? Panelists discuss “Metamorphosis” (1915), Franz Kafka as an author, and his literary legacy.

James Patrick Kelly (M), F. Brett Cox, Sarah Langan, John Langan, Darrell Schweitzer

Notes for Participant(s)

An interesting link in the Paris Review written by David Cronenberg http://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2014/01/17/the-beetle-and-the-fly/

Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem

Saturday 20:00 – 20:50, Burroughs (Westin)

Dark fiction and suspense are natural bedfellows. What is it about their synergy that works so well? How do you walk the line between mystery and suspense when there are monsters tearing their way through the plot? And how do dark fiction and horror help generate or amplify those nail-biting moments that make readers blaze through a story to see how it ends?

Leigh Perry (M), Dana Cameron, John Langan, Paul G. Tremblay

Reading: John Langan

Saturday 21:00 – 21:25, Griffin (Westin)

John Langan

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Sunday 11:00 – 11:50, Marina 2 (Westin)

From comics to movies, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has succeeded in keeping comic book fans interested and engaging new ones. With the weekly television show, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the reach extends. How does the show expand the storytelling toolkit of comics and/or the movies? Which elements have been successful and which could use some improvement?

Jack M. Haringa (M), LJ Cohen, Jim Mann, Marshall Ryan Maresca, John Langan

Kaffeeklatsch: John Langan

Sunday 12:00 – 12:50, Galleria-Kaffeeklatsch 1 (Westin)

John Langan

If you’re around and can afford it, think about dropping by, and if you do, please say hi.

I Know Some of You

are wondering why I study Tang Soo Do.  I could tell you that it’s for the long-term health benefits, or to share in an activity with my younger son, and while each of those would be true, neither is the REAL reason.  This video explains it better than I ever could:

That’s right:  I study Tang Soo Do to enable me to fight HOPPING VAMPIRES.

That is all.

A New Year’s Reflection, Prompted by Jet Li’s Fearless

Yesterday afternoon, my younger son, David, wanted to close out the old year by watching a martial arts film.  I opted for Jet Li’s Fearless, which I hadn’t seen before.  It’s a version, you might say, of the life of the Chinese martial artist, Huo Yuanjia.  As you would expect, the martial arts portion of the film was impressive.  There was an emphasis on not using your kung fu to beat up other people/take revenge on your enemies that I appreciated, especially since I was watching the film with my eleven year old, red belt son.

What struck me most, though, was a scene towards the end of the film, when Jet Li’s character is having tea with a Japanese karate master he’ll soon face in combat.  Huo Yuanjia, as he’s portrayed here, puts forth the idea that there is no single martial art that’s the best.  They’re all valid; there are simply better and worse practitioners of them.  So why compete against one another? the karate master asks.  To find out what our individual shortcomings are, Huo Yuanjia says, and work to better ourselves.

Fearless Still

From what little I know of martial arts, this strikes me as pretty much the case.  (As my Sa Bom Nim likes to say, “What’s the best martial art if you’re attacked?  The one you know.”)  And however hokey the scene in which it was expressed, the sentiment seems equally applicable to a variety of contexts, particularly the arts.  Since writing is what I do, I’m thinking of it specifically in that way.  Yes, there are plenty of kinds of narrative, plenty of genres, and within each one, all sorts of subdivisions.  But I have yet to see any compelling evidence that one type of narrative or another is intrinsically superior to the rest.  (Which is not to say that I haven’t read a lot of assertions to that effect.)  What I have seen are individual writers whose use of a particular genre, or one of its subdivisions, allows them to create brilliant art.

Don’t get me wrong:  I don’t deny the usefulness of larger categories of narrative, either to serve as a frame for the writer to work within, or to aid the critic attempting to interpret and contextualize the writer’s work.  The martial arts comparison applies:  the specific styles and schools allow you a way to direct your individual development.  If it helps you as a writer to see yourself as part of a larger movement, to publish manifestos, to align yourself with this writer or that writer who’s gone before, then by all means, do what helps your writing.  I cheerfully identify myself as a horror writer, and am happy to place myself within a tradition that includes Stephen King, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson, and Robert E. Howard, to name a few.  I try not to confuse my identification with the genre, however, and my love and respect for it, with any sense that it’s superior to the other kinds of narratives people choose to write.

Ultimately, my real contest is with myself, to try to be a better writer tomorrow than I was today.  The more I’ve practiced Tang Soo Do, the more I’ve discovered I’m able to do.  (Flying side kicks–it’s crazy.)  The more I’ve written, the more I’ve discovered I’m able to write.  Horror, weird, strange, bizarro:  whatever you call what you’re doing, use it to help you become a better artist.  Your contest isn’t with your fellow writers:  it’s with yourself.