I read an article on Stephen King recently and it made me think about how much this man, whom I only met briefly, has influenced my life. Sure, he’s provided countless hours of reading enjoyment, but he has done so much more than that.
I was in the eighth grade when I read his book Carrie. It was my first foray into horror as I was mostly reading romances at this point. But since Stephen King lived in the same state as I did, and not far away from me at that, I figured I needed to read something from Maine’s celebrated author. Besides, a couple friends suggested I read it! I was hooked from page one (good for him to have such a great hook!!). So it was that one day during school, I finished my classwork early and decided to pull my book out and read a few pages. My math teacher (who also happened to be the school principal) Mr. Mercer, hunkered down beside my desk (I think he was impressed that I was reading a book!) and asked me what I was reading. I showed him. He took the book from me and leafed through it. I could tell from the expression on his face that he was not impressed (sorry Mr. King!).
Mr. Mercer snaps the book shut and looks at me. I squirm uncomfortably beneath that stare. It wasn’t good, that look. I wondered what could be the problem? Finally he shakes the book at me, his eyes narrowed in displeasure. “I don’t want to see filth like this in my classroom again. You put this book away and if I see it again, I will take it away from you.” He handed me the book though it was pretty clear he wanted nothing more than to toss it into the garbage. “I can’t believe your parents are letting you read this. Do they know what you are reading?”
Truly, I was at a loss. What exactly, was wrong with the book? He didn’t read but bits and snatches so how could he know anything about it to pass judgment like that? I asked him what was wrong with the book and he would not clarify. He was too disappointed in me to give me any more of his attention. I had committed an unforgivable sin apparently. So, I took the book home and told my mom what happened. She rolled her eyes, unimpressed with Mr. Mercer’s viewpoint. Maybe he didn’t like books with blood in it. I don’t know, but it made me aware of how something simple like a choice of reading material can sway someone’s opinion of you. In return, however, my opinion of Mr. Mercer had dropped a little as well. Clearly the man had a closed mind! No doubt he was thinking that I clearly had a trashed one!
The next Stephen King book I read was The Shining. I was once again enthralled. I couldn’t put the book down and it scared the crap out of me (especially as I was living in a haunted house at the time!). I mention this because it is this book that will later play a very important part in my life choices!
In the fourth grade a new girl joined our class. Her name was Katrina and we became very good friends. Her parents bought a lodge right on Alamoosic Lake which was only about a mile from where I lived. They rented out rooms for overnight guests and catered many parties there. Katrina and I initially pitched in helping with those parties and eventually we became their only “hired” help (not much in the way of pay but we sure did have a good time!). Katrina and I helped in all aspects of their catering business. We assisted with preparing the food and serving it. We were also pretty much in charge of the clean up afterwards. Looking back on it, I see they (her parents) had a pretty good deal going on! Cheap labor that was really worth something! We worked hard and took pride in what we were doing. And if we were treated to a movie or an ice cream or a twenty dollar bill now and then, cool!!
So, one summer we are catering to an all day party…the works were being served…seafood (we did live on the coast of Maine after all!) to include lobsters, crabs and steamed clams. Katrina and I decided the person funding the party must be rich to afford all that expensive food. So, I’m behind the buffet table keeping watch, ensuring nothing ran low, when a man makes his way through the line that looks an awful lot like Stephen King. I stare at him, realize that I’m staring and glance away. Trying to pretend at this point that I am only interested in the food dishes before me, I listened as he talked with the woman following behind him in the line. She asked him when his next book was due out. He replied. Can’t say what he said because my jaw dropped open as realization hit that the man looked like Stephen King because he WAS Stephen King. I raced into the kitchen. “Katrina, I think Stephen King is here!” She doesn’t believe me. I drag her out to the buffet table. He’s near the end of the table at this point and as soon as she sees him, she knows I’m telling the truth. Something about our manner must have caught his attention because he looked up at us and smiled. If he thought our behavior strange, he didn’t let on that he thought so. I know we were looking like two star-struck idiots. We stood there, still as trees, staring at him with our mouths hanging open and our eyes wide with wonder. He was, after all, our very first sighting of a celebrity in the flesh.
Embarrassed to be caught staring thusly, Katrina and I turn and flee back into the kitchen, making a bee line for her father. “Dad,” says Katrina, “who is paying for this party? Did you know that Stephen King is here?” Her father, unimpressed with our excitement and even less so with the name, stared at us and said, “Who?” We impatiently tell him who Stephen King is and he wrinkles up his forehead as he goes into deep thought. Truly, I remember this day as if it were yesterday. Finally he says, “Well, it seems that I do recall something of the man being well known.” He then pulls a folded check out of his shirt pocket and reads the name on it. “Well,” he says, “what do you know. It is Stephen King.” He shows us the check. Katrina says, “Oh my God! You have to have him sign my book.” (Which she hadn’t even bothered to read mind you! Yes, I was very jealous that she was going to get an autographed book and I, who read his books and loved them…who recognized him in line and informed her that he was there…I was going to get nothing). Katrina raced out of the kitchen and went to retrieve her book. I, in the mean time, went back out to the dining room so I could watch this person who wrote books that scared the living daylights out of me. I had to know…was he normal? What kind of person thought stuff up like that? Did he consider himself better than those not quite so successful as he? Lots of things went through my mind, I was curious and so I watched him, his every move.
I have to add here that he seemed like a very pleasant man. His son was quite small then and running happily about the place. Stephen King chased him as any father would. They laughed, they had fun. At one point his son ran passed the buffet table and Mr. King chased after him saying, “Earth to Owen, Earth to Owen!” and then when he finally managed to catch him, he swung him up into the air as little Owen squealed in delight. People constantly bothered him and he was courteous to them all. He didn’t act weird or bizarre or eerie or anything like the books he produced. Now, is that passing judgement on someone or what? Talk about judging a book by its cover, it seems we also judge a writer by his books!
Finally I see Katrina’s dad come out of the kitchen with her book in his hand. He strides right up to Mr. King (who is still trying to eat his dinner) and asks him if he’ll sign his daughter’s book. Katrina is hiding in the kitchen, peaking from the doorway. I go in and tell her how lucky she is to be getting an autographed book. Slightly miffed, I begin scrubbing pots. Katrina pitches in to help. Soon we are both giggling over sudsy water and how we can’t wait to tell everyone at school that we worked at Stephen King’s party. The kitchen door opens behind us and Katrina’s dad booms in a very loud voice, “Girls, guess who wants to meet you?” We swing around, our hands dripping in dirty water, suds up to our elbows and stare open mouthed as Stephen King comes over to us and gives a slight bow. A bow! To us. “Ladies,” he says, “it is a pleasure to meet you and I want to thank you for the excellent job you are doing with this party.” He holds his hand out and I put my slippery wet hand into his. He then gallantly raises it to his mouth and kisses the back of it. He does the same to Katrina. He asks us which books we’ve read. I hid my smirk as Katrina admits that she’s just starting The Shining (the book he signed). I proudly tell him that I’ve read Carrie, Salem’s Lot and The Shining. He smiles, he’s pleasant, friendly, engaging. Then he says, with regret in his voice (certainly an inflection he put there just for us), “Well, girls, I must get back to my guests. Thank you again for all your hard work and for reading my books.” And he was gone.
As I wanted to be a writer at this point in my life, I thought to myself, “Someday, I’m going to be just like that when I’m a rich and famous author!”
On my eighteenth birthday, I went out on my first date (yes, you read that right…I was pathetically lacking in the romance department my entire venture through high school) and he (my date) took me to see The Shining. I fell in love with the scenery of Colorado (where the movie was shot). I decided right then and there that I would someday go to Colorado. And so, indirectly, Stephen King was about to influence one of the most monumental decisions of my life.
A year after graduating high school, I joined the Air Force. Because they had so many people wanting to go in, I had to wait for a job to open up. I waited for nine months and then got the call. My recruiter tells me that a career field has just opened to women. I would be working outside building munitions (yes, that means things that blow up!). At the time, I had worked so many office jobs through high school that I wanted something more exciting than a desk to work at. He tells me that I will be a pioneer, paving the way for future women to follow. All quite grand to be sure. But…bombs? No. I tell him that I’m not sure that’s what I had in mind when I said I didn’t want to be sitting behind a desk. But then he says, “Well, you’ll be attending technical school in Denver, Colorado. I’ve heard it’s really a nice school.” I’m sure, thinking back, that the recruiter had no clue on whether the base was nice or not. It didn’t matter. I wanted to go to Colorado! “I’ll take the job.”
While attending basic training, I was taken aside, led into a private room and a man of high rank tried to convince me to change my job choice to something else. I listened to his spiel and then asked, “Where is the school for this job?” He says, “California.” I said, “But I don’t want to go to California, I want to go to Colorado.” He looks at me as if I’ve lost my mind. “You are making a career choice based on where the school is located?” Okay, he can look at me like I’m a moron, I don’t care. I was determined. I was going to Colorado. Truly, he just sat there and looked at me as if I’d suddenly grown a second head and one not so appealing at that! I figured out many years later why. Building bombs was not a fun job. At least, not for me. In fact, I pretty much hated it for most of my 20 year military career. And that, being stuck in a job I did not enjoy, I can now say was Stephen King’s fault!
I read his book The Stand when I was stationed at a military base in Virginia. I think it was around 1986. As I was reading the book one day (people were dying en mass of a flu epidemic in the book) the news came on. People were dying of a flu epidemic! I remember being a little freaked out at the coincidence. Mr. King, I thought, is a smart man! Thank God we didn’t lose our world population. Still, the book inspired me, and I began writing again. I wrote my first story at the age of eight. I was sure I would be an author, a published one within a few years of graduating high school. But, the Air Force took over my life and then my kids and so it went. But after reading The Stand, I dug out my old notebooks and began again to dream my dream.
I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, when I read Stephen King’s “On Writing“. I started the book while my husband was in surgery. I remember laughing a lot (who knew the master of the macabre had such a great sense of humor?) and getting curious looks from the others sharing the waiting room with me. Finally I had to go in search of a highlighter. Good stuff to remember! I found a store, bought a yellow highlighter and a pen and went back to the waiting room so I could mark my favorite passages and quotes. There were a lot.
Not long before this, I rediscovered a manuscript I’d started in high school (my first “horror”…inspired after reading Stephen King’s “The Shining”) and thought it must be the universe telling me I needed to finish that story. It was laying on the bed when I got home from work. I recognized the notebook right away and wondered why it was there. I hadn’t seen it in over ten years! (my husband had gone digging for a notebook and of all the notebooks I’d packed away, he pulled that one out and tossed it on the bed). A friend who knew I was working on a book bought me King’s “On Writing” thinking it would help. It did. I became more inspired than ever to finish that book! Someday I will publish “No Matter What”. But first to get my “Be Still, My Love” out into the reading public.
I’m excited about the pending publication of my book (I’ve decided to join the ranks of other author hopefuls and publish it myself). It’s been a long journey for me but considering the person from whom I’ve been inspired and influenced, I figure it’s a good omen. I watched an interview King gave one time and he said, (paraphrasing somewhat) “If a story grabs you and excites you and you can’t wait to write it down…well, then you probably have the potential for a best-seller on your hands.” That pretty much describes most of the books I’ve written so far! (the first part that is…about the story grabbing me with its hurry to be written down…but not, unfortunately, the second part…yet). There is one particular quote from Stephen King’s book “On Writing” that really stuck with me all these years. He said, “If God gives you something you can do, why in God’s name wouldn’t you do it?” He’s got me there. Writing is the one thing I’ve been doing almost all my life. It’s been something of an obsession. So, it must be my God given gift. Can’t think what else it could be! So, thanks, Stephen King, I think I will…take your advice and use my God given gift.
How about you? Are you using your God given gift?