King's Highway pt. 11: On Writing and the SK Companion

I got The Stephen King Companion as a Christmas gift in 1988 or 1989. Maybe 87? I can't recall.

This goes for some wild prices on eBay, but keep searching, there are some $.99 first editions out there.
I got rid of all my books when I left Dayton in 1998, and this was one of them. I re-acquired it for the sake of this project. How does it hold up? Kind of flimsy, I guess, but for me, it was a treasure trove of memories. I found this site while gathering materials for this blog, and especially when set aside some of these other overviews, it comes off as a bit fan-club-ish. Not that that's a bad thing, just, if you're looking for King analysis, the best thing in here is the reprinted Playboy interview (more on that at the end of this blog) and the text for An Evening with Stephen King from Virginia Beach, VA.

As for On Writing, this can be read in two ways. One of which I will concentrate on here, and the other, which is probably more along the lines of why it was written, i.e. tactile lessons from one of the most successful writers of our age, which I will not.

This book came across my radar on 2000, when I was a tutor at The Writing Center at Rhode Island College:

Craig-Lee, my oft-Base-of-Operations 2000-2003.
At the time, I flipped through it enough to get the gist (I thought) of it, which seemed more or less like the same advice Mrs. Wimms gave me in 10th grade from The Lively Art of Writing. Or later, from A Moveable Feast or Papa Hemingway or just from reading Salinger. That was my reaction to it at the time, you understand. (After this - neither here nor there - the only person I wanted to listen to on fiction was Fitzgerald from The Crack-Up.) This time around, I found it full of very practical advice, not the least of which is:

Put your desk in the corner and remind yourself why it isn't in the middle of the room... Life is not a support-system for art; it's the other way around. 

Which led me to an interesting 4 hour adventure yesterday afternoon re-arranging my room, which involved two-prong adapters, extension cords, some creative problem-solving, and lots of hands-and-knees scrubbing and annihilation of germs heretofore unrealized. 

But, as alluded to above, I connected much more with the biographical material and perhaps projected a bit upon it. King's work has been a part of my life for as long as anything else. Thinking about it - doing these blogs - can't help but bring some other things to mind, certain signposts along the way.

Nice Corgi. (It was a rescue.)
The sections on his accident and recovery were chilling. Real-life horror recounted faithfully. In a lot of ways, King's trained himself so well as a writer of horror (as he says in the Playboy interview, 'I'm not above thrusting your hand in the maggot-infested innards of a long-dead woodchuck") that when he discusses the rational horrors of mortality, it comes across like Khan's effortlessly chilling sudden appearance in Wrath of Khan.

Okay, so Star Trek 2 is on, here, during my Sunday night blogging. So it goes!

Couple things:

- The Playboy interview from the 80s is interesting for many reasons. He speaks of knowing some tragedy awaits him in the near future (easy enough to chalk it up to his paranoid/ besotted state of mind at the time, but still, rather chilling, especially given his ongoing preoccupation with pre-cogs, etc.) and of his writing deconstructing himself/ his own therapy. He talks in On Writing how he knew he was an alcoholic as early as 1975 when he wrote The Shining - that his muse, as it were, cried for help the only way it could.

Danny isn't here right now, Mr.s Torrance... He's shot-gunning beers in the garage with tissues up his nose to stem the coke-induced beating with his heart going 130 beats a minute.
And he gives us some other insight into The Tommyknockers and Misery and Cujo, all very interesting, as well. But it is this passage that really resonated with me:

The last thing I want to tell you in this part is about my desk. For years I dreamed of having the sort of desk that would dominate a room... In 1981 got the one I wanted and placed it in the middle of a spacious, sky-lighted study (it's a converted stable loft at the rear of the house). For six years I sat behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of my mind, like a ship's captain in charge of a voyage to nowhere.

First, it is weird to imagine all the output of this period (good God, just look it up) as the result of someone who describes himself that way. Second, I can relate in some stupid ways, except moving the timetable a few decades later. (And, you know, subtracting the monetary and creative success of the relative six years in question.) And third, just... what an image. I almost see it as a signpost on the edge of true alcoholism/ addiction. Turn back here. 

Not King, but the first alcoholic I ever met was Tony Stark. My brother had to explain what an alcoholic was to me.
On Writing is a humbling book to read. If you are a writer or aspire to be one, this is a great kick in the ass. If you're an admirer of the memoir genre, it's a fun read. It fits all the criteria of any book-blurb you ever read... Inspiring, a tour-de-force, 'King writes with an honesty and energy unsurpassed,'... Blah blah yadda yadda. And, it lives up to it.

- It's wild to read these recollections of authors Joe Hill and Owen King as children. Re: Joe, "The delivery was easy; nothing else with him was." (Said with affection.) I can see that; Joe Hill seems to be a rather ornery dude, quick to deride/ project on Twitter. But, maybe that's how come he writes so good, to paraphrase Vonnegut.

FINAL VERDICT: Shelf-worthy. Amazingly readable, helpful, illuminating. It is not an exaggeration to say this may be the best book of its kind to come out in the past few decades. I hope it remains in the stacks of the Writing Center at Craig-Lee for several generations.


  1. I just discovered this fantastic resource: http://www.liljas-library.com/faq.php

    Check it out - tons of stuff in there. I look forward to grabbing that book when I can find an affordable copy.

  2. Excellent post here.

    Brother, you are preaching to the choir on the subject of "The Stephen King Companion." I bought that book in 1990 or so, and it was my first exposure to knowing anything about King apart from what he told me through his books. And it was like an atom-bomb went off. I absolutely LOVED that book.

    I reread it a year or so ago, and like you, I found that it hadn't aged terribly well, but that didn't do anything to lessen my memories of how much I enjoyed it -- how much I learned from it -- at the time. I've been wanting to write a review of the book for my own blog; reading this may have tipped me over the edge.

    Another similar book I can't recommend highly enough is "Stephen King: The Art of Darkness" by Douglas E. Winter. It's more along the lines of critical analysis, but it's very, very good critical analysis; readable, entertaining, and peppered with lots of quotes from King from various sources. WELL worth seeking out.

    I've got nothing to say currently about "On Writing" -- that awesome book is too big for me to deal with in a casual manner -- but that Playboy interview is an absolute treasure.

    1. Happy you enjoyed. Yeah, like you, that SK Companion meant EVERYTHING to me back in the day. I read that thing left and right, cover to cover, up and down, over and over. And yeah, that Playboy interview speaks to just about everything in King's career, before and after.

      I always wanted that Art of Darkness book. I might have to pick it up for this King's Highway project.

      On Writing is amazing, isn't it? I might re-visit it when I get to Danse Macabre. But it's the sort of thing that'll get brought up a lot, I bet, regardless of whatever I'm reviewing.