Influences - Stephen King

I can't begin a list of writers who have influenced me without starting with Stephen King. 

When I was a creative writing student in college (way back in the early 1990s), it wasn't hip (or 'hep' as my former percussion instructor used to say) to throw Stephen King out as an influence. Creative writing classes of that era were still dominated by the structures established in the 1970s, the writing programs designed by the likes of John Gardner, who pushed publication in small, literary magazines and tried to get everyone who could do so to attend THE Writer's Workshop at the University of Iowa. (To be fair to Univ of Iowa, a couple of my favorite writers--Mark Helprin and TC Boyle--did time there.) 

If you weren't trying to be the next Raymond Carver, you were shit. This is a shame, because I don't think even Raymond Carver wanted to be Raymond Carver after awhile. 

Anyway, even in the 1990s the MFA to teaching to (maybe) publishing route was unable to support the many, many writers (like myself) who couldn't get into or couldn't fit into MFA programs. Those of us who grew up on comic books, Piers Anthony and Stephen King novels, old reruns of The Twilight Zone, and whatever other miasma of pop culture/literary influences that penetrated our brains were sort of forced to suck it. (Michael Chabon being the one clear example of a writer with similar influences to mine and who transcended painful obscurity by staying true to his influences. Hats off to you, Mr. Chabon.) 

But yeah, you didn't mention that you loved Stephen King back in my day. You just didn't. 

If I had to point to two things (because I can't narrow it down to one) that set King apart, and two things that demand respect, it's his authorial voice and his evocation of all things Americana. Even in his worst novels (let's say Tommyknockers), his voice is so alluring, so compelling, so much like our own inner dialogue, that you can't help but follow him wherever he takes you. And does anyone summon 'kitchen sink' realism better than Mr. King? He gets America. He gets us. He gives you a world just like the one we live in, and then he either scares the shit out of us, or he transports us, or he performs some wonderful combination of both.  

I find the epics--The Stand, IT--the most compelling. But the argument could be made that the greater novels are the more focused pot-boilers like Firestarter or The Dead Zone. I dig his horror works, but I find his paranormal-influenced tales just as winning, if not more so. I have barely read The Dark Tower series, and I can't wait to finally dig in.

Beyond the deep debt I have to him and his fiction, I found his On Writing to be the perfect impetus--the right book read at the right time--to get me to complete my own fiction works and get them out into the world. His process of always moving on to the next project is what I needed to emulate in order to get over my own obsessive revision cycle. (It wasn't David Milch obsessive, but it was close.) Funny that I had to end where I began in order to get my own writing career going again. Life just never ceases to mystify.

By the by, I have read that other authors--notably Karen Russell--have recently begun to publicly thank the man for his influence on their own writing. I'm happy to see the man get his due. Thanks Stephen King for showing us the way.