“producing much fruit, or foliage, or many offspring”
August 28, 2015 3:19 PM   Subscribe

Can a Novelist Be Too Productive? by Stephen King [New York Times] [Op-Ed]
“No one in his or her right mind would argue that quantity guarantees quality, but to suggest that quantity never produces quality strikes me as snobbish, inane and demonstrably untrue.”
posted by Fizz (112 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well of course he'd say that.
posted by timshel at 3:31 PM on August 28, 2015 [20 favorites]


Another data point: There is an inverse correlation between the quality of George R R Martin's novels, and the amount of time that it took him to write them.
posted by schmod at 3:36 PM on August 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's like King's editor just gave up about ten years ago.
posted by gottabefunky at 3:46 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Someone I knew said that Stephen King had one good book in him, and then he wrote it twenty times.
posted by orange swan at 3:58 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Practice makes better.
posted by infinitewindow at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2015


Someone I knew said that Stephen King had one good book in him, and then he wrote it twenty times.

Well, there's just two songs in me, and I just wrote the third. Don't know where I got the inspiration or how I wrote the words.
posted by chimaera at 4:01 PM on August 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


i never get tired of stephen king complaining about snobs. i do not get it. motherfucker is rich and reasonably well-regarded and YET SOMEHOW
posted by beefetish at 4:02 PM on August 28, 2015 [7 favorites]


I like Stephen King but I wish he'd just stick to acting.
posted by AtoBtoA at 4:07 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Tomorrow: "Can an actor take too many parts?" By Nicholas Cage
posted by Cash4Lead at 4:17 PM on August 28, 2015 [25 favorites]


PG Wodehouse wrote about 100 books, most of which are still in print. I've yet to find one I didn't enjoy.
posted by Paul Slade at 4:27 PM on August 28, 2015 [17 favorites]


It's like King's editor just gave up about ten years ago.


Are you a time-traveler from 1994??
posted by skewed at 4:56 PM on August 28, 2015 [26 favorites]


Is the link not working for anybody else? I just get the NYT cover page.
posted by thetortoise at 5:14 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's funny. When I go to view the article, it's just the same sentence over and over for hundreds of pages.

Must have taken him months to type all that out.
posted by schmod at 5:17 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


King's problem is the same as George Lucas: He had a small set of good ideas, and when he ran them out he kept going.

The apex of King's career is almost inarguably IT. He wasn't completely even before them, but he consistently made home runs and when he was firing on all cylinders it was incredible. Even when he had a major misfire like The Tommyknockers, written in a manic coke fuelled haze, it could be amazing. But he gradually mined his life experiences; he was basically a college English professor and after he mined the relationships he knew and the jobs he'd held and the people he'd known he put it all on the table and hit the jackpot with IT, the book that encapsulated everything he'd been trying to say about the horror of simply living that he had been giving us in little fits and bursts before.

And then he kept going. And as he himself once said, everything after IT wanted to turn into a four thousand page character study, and his editors let it. Despite the occasional moment of gold like The Green Mile, which worked because he challenged himself to work in serial format, it was mostly the rehash of the Jedi done longer and with different and more boring actors.

I suppose he decided to learn to fly to get some new life experience but damn the stories he has told about flying are some of the most sterile and empty shit he has ever written. He has the technical stuff down but never found the soul of his hobby.

King has written at least five candidates for The Great American Novel, and it was his genius to see that America's soul is in horror. Not many of us are Atticus Finch but every single one of us could be that guy on the road trying to decide whether to turn toward Nevada or Colorado, knowing in our gut that the decision is irrevocable once made. The Great American Emotion after all is fear, and fear is an instrument King plays like a Jazz virtuoso. It's too bad he never relearned the stark economy of his very first novel, Carrie, which has an almost written-by-someone-else feel when compared to all of his other works. Unfortunately economy is one of the things an editor is supposed to teach you, and at a certain point everyone became afraid to suggest that any of the Master's words might be best erased.

It was with some sadness after I slogged my way through Dreamcatcher that I told my wife not to bother with the traditional King Christmas gift any more. Watching King's post-IT career has been like watching an old friend decline into ... well not dementia, obviously, but into someone I don't know any more. And that's an idea the old Stephen King would have woven into a pretty tight novella between more solid story projects.
posted by Bringer Tom at 5:18 PM on August 28, 2015 [32 favorites]


ꟼAYWA⅃⅃
posted by schmod at 5:19 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


But you guys, Joe Hill, and Locke & Key!!!
posted by Fizz at 5:27 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


My thesis here is a modest one: that prolificacy is sometimes inevitable, and has its place.
Seems reasonable to me.
posted by thetortoise at 5:31 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


i never get tired of stephen king complaining about snobs. i do not get it. motherfucker is rich and reasonably well-regarded and YET SOMEHOW
I think that part of it is that when he started complaining about snobs, he wasn't reasonably well-regarded. Twenty years ago, literary types would have laughed you out of the room if you'd said that you thought Stephen King had produced some good writing. I think maybe at this point he has a residual chip on his shoulder.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:35 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


IT is definitely my favorite of his and probably in my top ten all time, but I still think he's published some excellent books since then. Just from a quick glance down his bibliography on wikipedia, there's parts 2,3 and 4 of the Dark Tower, Needful Things, Desperation/The Regulators, Black House and 11/22/63. Even that extra DT book he put out a few years ago, The Wind In The Keyhole, was pretty solid imo.
posted by mannequito at 5:39 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


Should add there's definitely been some duds though. I gave up on Bag of Bones, Doctor Sleep felt like a pointless money grab, and, yeah, I wish I could un-read Dreamcatcher.
posted by mannequito at 5:42 PM on August 28, 2015


I was a strong King fan back in the day: I would try to sneak read the (ginormous) Talisman paperback in class. I have slacked off in recent years, but a couple weeks ago I picked up Mr Mercedes and then burned through the sequel (Finders Keepers). He is very prolific, and there are some misses, but I have to say that I am still a fan. (Not in a creepy Annie Wilkes sense of course).
posted by maryrussell at 5:47 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Snobs complaining about Stephen King, on the other hand...
I put the question of King’s literary merit to Yale University’s Harold Bloom, the legendary critic and author of The Western Canon. Bloom issued a stinging rebuke of King in 2003, when King was given the US National Book Foundation’s annual award for ‘distinguished contribution to American letters’. Bloom called the honour “another low in the shocking process of dumbing down our cultural life. I've described King in the past as a writer of penny dreadfuls, but perhaps even that is too kind. He shares nothing with Edgar Allan Poe. What he is is an immensely inadequate writer on a sentence-by-sentence, paragraph-by-paragraph, book-by-book basis.”

Is it possible Harold Bloom might have changed his mind over the last tumultuous decade? It seems not. “Stephen King is beneath the notice of any serious reader who has experienced Proust, Joyce, Henry James, Faulkner and all the other masters of the novel,” Bloom tells me
(from this article)

I don't blame him for having a chip on his shoulder, honestly. It's not just that he has his critics but that his critics use him as the poster boy for what's wrong with American books.

I was rereading It recently, and I can imagine talking about King in a century the way we talk about Melville now.
posted by thetortoise at 5:48 PM on August 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Steven King has his own time machine.

His books *are* getting better with practice, but that's because he actually wrote them in reverse sequential order.
posted by markkraft at 5:53 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The apex of King's career is almost inarguably IT.

That's the last book I remember enjoying... and I really remember reading it. I got it for Christmas when I was 15. I guess Misery and the Dark Half were interesting, and I didn't mind the Tommyknockers, but It was the last book I remember really enjoying, and it's been almost 30 years.

What I really like about King's books is the gritty kitchen-sink realism of the characters' lives.

I listened to a lot of Springsteen back then (Born in the USA had come out in 1984), and King really reminds me of Springsteen.

Incidentally I was listening to a lecture by William Gibson the other day, and Gibson said that he himself was influenced by Springsteen, and that he used the world of Springsteen as an "arena" for his early SF short stories (eg, Burning Chrome).
posted by Nevin at 6:15 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Which of Stephen King's works are taken as science fiction? Has he ever won an award in that genre?
posted by newdaddy at 6:17 PM on August 28, 2015




Another thing to love about MetaFilter: all of the disdain for Stephen King's career.
posted by OHenryPacey at 6:19 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which of Stephen King's works are taken as science fiction?

"The Jaunt" comes to mind.
posted by Iridic at 6:21 PM on August 28, 2015 [9 favorites]


But Salems's Lot? Goddamn. Still horrifying.
posted by triage_lazarus at 6:23 PM on August 28, 2015 [8 favorites]


Which of Stephen King's works are taken as science fiction?

11/22/63
posted by thetortoise at 6:34 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Which of Stephen King's works are taken as science fiction? "

I'm actually more interested in knowing which of his books were intentionally designed to be a source of humor.
posted by markkraft at 6:37 PM on August 28, 2015


I liked The Tommyknockers because it was so weird. I'd rank The Stand above It but they are indeed the apex. He is more of a storyteller than a writer - his prose is pretty pedestrian. His attempts to write tomes on the craft of writing left me cold. The comparison to Springsteen seems pretty spot on.
posted by grumpybear69 at 6:39 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


The really great thing about Steven King's books is that the movies and TV shows based on them make his books look a lot better, in comparison.
posted by markkraft at 6:39 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think King is trotting out a pretty big straw-man argument here. Prolificicity is not a bad thing, it's when your out-put becomes sloppy that people start to complain. An SK book from the last 20 or so years might run 200,000 words, but not that much thought behind the words. He likes to write, but he basically admits in this essay that he doesn't put as much thought or effort into his work as other authors whom he admires.

The great Truman Capote put-down he mentions is really apt for writers like King. If I wrote a 200,000 page novel it would be terrible because I don't have the skills to create a coherent novel. King has those skills, he is a master craftsman. But his novels still have been so frequently bad or mediocre, because he doesn't seem to put anything into them other than the effort to type out the words.
posted by skewed at 6:41 PM on August 28, 2015


It seems the Hive Mind just decided it hates King since I've been gone?

Ah, well, I've read both Cell and 11.22.63 this year and loved both, and I ploughed through Doctor Sleep in a day.
posted by Mezentian at 6:58 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


The apex of King's career is almost inarguably IT.

"Inarguably"? Know many SK fans? IMO, in terms of favorite books among the Kingdom (I don't know if this is how the larger SK fandom refers to itself, because I'm not that strongly tied into them, but it's as good a term as any) try The Stand or even the Dark Tower series, which is its own thing and yet ties into many of his other books. As far as IT goes, well. As far as I'm concerned, I have my own opinion on his career, and would add a fifth category/era, Post-Post-Accident. (Since I wrote that, he's indicated that the years immediately post-accident were influenced by his being on heavy painkillers, which he's since weaned himself off of.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:02 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


But Salems's Lot? Goddamn. Still horrifying.

I reread this about a year ago. I first read it when I was maybe 12 or 13, and not since. It was probably the first or second King book I read, and goddamn is right.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:05 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


As far as IT goes, well.

Stephen King's explanation via this blog:

"I wasn't really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood --1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don't remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children--we think we do, but we don't remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It's another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children's library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues."
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:17 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


*had* not since.

And I thought Doctor Sleep was actually pretty good. 11/22/63 was also great for me. I just finished Revival. I...liked it. Not his best, but Finders Keepers and Mr. Mercedes were enjoyable.

The other thing that people forget is that King is embarrassingly well read. So like or hate his output (and I think he's had duds), I find it hard to hate on the guy. But maybe that's because his writing is sort of comfort food for me. I think it has to do with the inner life of his characters and the grit and shit of real life he throws in there, as Nevin mentioned.

I think he's good people and a good writer for my money. But I also wrote a paper for the most fun English lit course I ever took (Topics in Literature: Horror and Crime Fiction) on The Dark Half, which I also liked. So, maybe I have some inbuilt bias in that a book I read by choice and enjoyed before I got to university could be fodder for a paper that was worth 25 per cent of my mark in the course.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:20 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues."

I read the book not long after it came out, in my early teens.
I gave that scene confused dog face even then.
posted by Mezentian at 7:21 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Well Halloween Jack I said almost inarguably, which does leave a little room for argument. I think King's least appreciated pre-IT novel is The Tommyknockers and it's actually my personal favorite, although I know that makes me weird. I suppose a lot of people would say the real apex of his career was either 'Salem's Lot or The Stand, but I see a lot of stabbing at the heights those novels achieved before falling off a cliff after IT. So yeah, IT might not be an apex in its own right but it was like the last bit of the old SK we saw before he fell off a cliff.

Maybe he's clawed his way out of that ravine since the accident but if so I wouldn't be likely to notice since he lost me as a reader in the 4000 page character study phase. If you can direct me to something he's written recently that has the punch of 'Salem's Lot I'll be willing to check it out.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:21 PM on August 28, 2015


If you can direct me to something he's written recently that has the punch of 'Salem's Lot I'll be willing to check it out.

The stories in Full Dark No Stars are among the very best stuff he's ever written. I wasn't expecting that either.

The best Stephen King novel since the 90s, really hearkening back to his classic style, is probably NOS4A2. Yeah, he didn't write it, but can you deny it?
posted by escabeche at 7:35 PM on August 28, 2015 [5 favorites]


As for the linked piece: Not enough Trollope.
posted by escabeche at 7:35 PM on August 28, 2015


I'm just going to point to this and walk away.

He remains one of my very favorite authors.
posted by dogheart at 7:38 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


I wish that King had an editor that could talk him out of terrible decisions such as the ending of "Under the Dome" and that one bit near the end of "11.22.63". But I still often enjoy his books.
posted by wintermind at 7:40 PM on August 28, 2015


terrible decisions such as the ending of "Under the Dome"

As the magic of TV has shown: it could have been worse.
posted by Mezentian at 7:51 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'd rank The Stand above It but they are indeed the apex.

I think I have read The Stand three times... but the third time was the early 90's reboot that was supposed to be "updated" to remove anachronisms. It didn't work. But that is a ripping yarn, all right.

I have always like Night Shift as well. The constraint of brevity (and perhaps trying as a freelancer to meet the higher expectations of magazine editors) make the stories really powerful and creepy. Like Jerusalem's Lot.

The Mist, in the second collection of stories, is still one of the most depressing stories I have ever read. I would say that's "science fiction."
posted by Nevin at 7:52 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


It seems the Hive Mind just decided it hates King

I don't hate him at all, but the early books (up until, say 1986) are "classic King" for me.

My mom gave me "Doctor Sleep" for Christmas and I haven't been able to crack it open. She was the one who got me Stephen King books for Christmas when I was a teen, so it was kind of a nostalgic gift...
posted by Nevin at 7:54 PM on August 28, 2015


The Shining scared me more than anything I've ever read, and I re-read the Stand every few years because I love it so. He's written so many things that stuck with me, but some real turds too. Even though one of his magnum opuses is one of my favorites, he's best when he's simple and pared down. The first Dark Tower, Christine, Cujo, Carrie, the Long Walk, the Jaunt, the Raft, the Mist.
posted by Mavri at 7:54 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


The stories in Full Dark No Stars are among the very best stuff he's ever written

I can attest to FDNS being harrowing and great fun (even if I have no memory of 1922).

This doesn't needed to be said, I am sure, but you can easily skip the film version of A Good Marriage and be better off for it.
posted by Mezentian at 7:59 PM on August 28, 2015


I have always like Night Shift as well.

Oh, true story. In grade 6 or 7, our school librarian read "Trucks" to our class (bleeping out the swear words as she read). I immediately checked the book out. I would soon get into AC/DC and therefore HAD to see Maximum Overdrive because OMG Stephen King AND AC/DC?

That was when I learned to stick to the books and not movie adaptations thereof as a general rule. It's a life lesson that's served me pretty well, I think.

Speaking of cautionary tales...Misery is coming to Broadway. I shit you not.

Also, The Lawnmower Man (movie) was so not what The Lawnmower Man (short story, plot summaries within) was even about.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:02 PM on August 28, 2015 [1 favorite]


I would also say that "From a Buick 8" is science fiction. I never got to the ending of "Under the Dome" because the story made me start feeling trapped, and it scared me so badly I couldn't handle it.
posted by stoneegg21 at 8:05 PM on August 28, 2015


Speaking of cautionary tales...Misery is coming to Broadway. I shit you not.

In a world where Carrie is a musical, who is surprised?
Damn, I hope they do the hobbling scene justice.

Also, The Lawnmower Man was so not what The Lawnmower Man (plot summaries within) was even about.

There's a guy, with a lawnmower. Totally King's idea. Straight from his page to the screen.
posted by Mezentian at 8:06 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


This youtube comment for the Maximum Overdrive trailer is a rare one that actually made me chuckle:

King hated Kubrick's The Shining but actually made this stupid fucking movie, I don't think he's a good judge of film making.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:07 PM on August 28, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm a fan of King, which I don't think would be surprising to anyone, although I think his best length is short -- his novellas and some of the shorter novels (although both IT and The Stand are exceptions to this general rule). But when all is said and done, Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight pack a very high ratio of awesome to pages.

I think it's difficult at times to really assess "profligacy." A few years ago I pointed out that George RR Martin and I write roughly at the same speed -- the difference is that I spread those words across several novels where he packs them into one monster one. I write about one novel a year, which means that when all is said and done I might clock out at 40 or 50 books. When I die, I will be lucky to be remembered for one or two of those (right now, those would be "Old Man's War" and "Redshirts"), and 25 years after that I'll be lucky if even one of those (probably OMW) makes the cut.

Most creative people, if they are remembered at all, are remembered for one thing (in Mr. King's case, I suspect ultimately it will be for "The Shining"). In the end, we are all one hit wonders. So from the view of history, it doesn't matter if you write one book, or twenty, or a hundred.
posted by jscalzi at 8:08 PM on August 28, 2015 [26 favorites]


In a world where Carrie is a musical...

Ah...knew it was around here somewhere. Carrie the Musical previously: "For me, the high point of the lyrics was rhyming ‘attitude’ with ‘I’ve been screwed’."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:13 PM on August 28, 2015


In the end, we are all one hit wonders. So from the view of history, it doesn't matter if you write one book, or twenty, or a hundred.

Seems like some sort of mis-truth there, to cover your lack of popularity, when compared to to the true giants of the age, whose names are so well known no one ever mentions them when talking about books they love.
posted by Mezentian at 8:16 PM on August 28, 2015


Even Stephen King can't make me not love Stephen King.

Keep writing, man, I'll keep reading.
posted by MoonOrb at 9:13 PM on August 28, 2015 [3 favorites]


Even Stephen King can't make me not love Stephen King.

And he's certainly tried. For me, it was Dreamcatcher, and then The Wolves of Calla, and the slow death march through the end of the Dark Tower, but then I read The Wind Through The Keyhole, and it was all good.
posted by Mezentian at 9:59 PM on August 28, 2015 [2 favorites]


Doctor Sleep felt like a pointless money grab

Come on, man. I can totally understand not liking it (I didn't like it much either, although I don't regret reading it), but a money grab? The guy has like a jillion dollars, and can pretty much dictate his terms to publishers. Unless he's been consciously running an incredibly long con, like since the 70s, I think we can at least allow that he genuinely cares about his work and would not shit in one of the few places in his oeuvre that "serous" literary critics grudgingly eat (probably mostly because of the Kubrick movie, but still) just for the sake of adding a meaningless few percent more to the pile of money he will never live long enough to spend.
posted by No-sword at 10:21 PM on August 28, 2015 [6 favorites]


The guy has like a jillion dollars,

When I looked this up several years ago it was estimated at $250 million. This isn't to rebut No-sword's point (a 'jillion' is a fictional number anyway), but I was super puzzled by this, because J.K. Rowling somehow made 1 billion from a single book series over the span of a decade. Meanwhile King has been cranking out all kinds of best-sellers since the 1970s, and almost all of them have been turned into mainstream Hollywood movies. Seriously, like over a hundred movies. It does not compute how he would have that much less wealth than Rowling.
posted by dgaicun at 2:12 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


ok I'll rephrase: Doctor Sleep felt pointless

and yeah, I didn't hate it either

first third was very slow and plodding, middle was decent and entertaining, albeit in a pulpy way, final act ridiculous - but when I finished, I immediately turned it over, stared at the cover, and asked "Why?"
posted by mannequito at 2:52 AM on August 29, 2015


Yeah, I did basically the same. It felt like he had some really good ideas about father-son relationships, responsibility to your fellow human, etc... and also a straight loopy idea about vampires. I came ready to suspend disbelief in vengeful ghosts, psychic powers and cursed places; a Taltos-style pseudo-plausible tribe of literal monsters, no. And yeah, the final third went on forever because there just wasn't any suspense; it was obvious who would win and it didn't even seem that important that he not die in the process.

a 'jillion' is a fictional number

Really? Brb calling my accountant.
posted by No-sword at 3:18 AM on August 29, 2015


because J.K. Rowling somehow made 1 billion from a single book series over the span of a decade

Inflation.
She wrote for kids, which was picked up by adults, and all her novels were largely a series. Also, drugs.
Plus, her movies were probably profitable, with merchandising. Lots of it.

JK Rowling net worth: $1 Billion
Stephen King net worth: $400 Million
posted by Mezentian at 3:29 AM on August 29, 2015


There's a new dark tower novel and people like it? This is great!
posted by mmmbacon at 3:51 AM on August 29, 2015


Even The Stand was better when it was shorter! There must be something, but I'm hard-pressed to think of anything the unedited version improves upon, and I can think of a number of flaws it introduced. I wouldn't quite say that King like George Lucas Special Editioned his own book, but man, the original is just a tighter, better novel.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 5:01 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


i never get tired of stephen king complaining about snobs. i do not get it.

Well, of the 6 comments before yours 4 of them are insulting his writing ability, so there's that.
posted by Gygesringtone at 5:53 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Someone should do a "all the Stephen King books, ranked in order" blog post. I can see now that would generate like a jillion hits. (Of course, you'd have to read all the books first.)
posted by newdaddy at 5:56 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Stephen King has given bazillions of dollars to the Bangor Public Library, and he frequently spars with the loud & unpleasant governor of this state, so he can write the same book five hundred and forty-five thousand times for all I care.
posted by JanetLand at 5:59 AM on August 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


I think King and Rowling are actually a good comparison for writers. They both have excellent plotting ability, do badly with insufficient editing, have a lot of love-or-hate feelings. (I am a fan of both of them, though I have a lot of King's work queued up in my towering pile of to-read.)

It's unsurprising that Rowling has earned more money -- would YOU go to a theme park based on King's books?
posted by jeather at 6:05 AM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


would YOU go to a theme park based on King's books?

It hasn't been as much fun since they shut down the Teacups Full of Blood for health reasons.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 6:14 AM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Miseryland.
posted by parki at 6:21 AM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Stephen King has given bazillions of dollars to the Bangor Public Library, and he frequently spars with the loud & unpleasant governor of this state

I have often thought that "governor of Maine" would be a cool coda to King's career. And he would win, wouldn't he?
posted by escabeche at 6:32 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd vote for him.

Although, my lack of citizenship would be an issue.... as long as you VOTE TRUMP.

Someone should do a "all the Stephen King books, ranked in order" blog post.

Been done.
posted by Mezentian at 6:37 AM on August 29, 2015


Stephen King is gold as a subject when it comes to making small talk with acquaintances or dates etc... all one has to say is oh, remember those lobster-monster-things on the beach? or how m-o-o-n spells moon? or any other of a thousand images or scenes that are now imprinted on a huge number of disparate people around the world. So, too profilic, maybe. But... definitely significant and important.
posted by fourpotatoes at 6:55 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Miseryland

It's hard to walk away from The Sledgehammers.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:05 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think I can remember every detail of the face-off with Callahan, the head vampire, the kid, and the kid's parents (although obviously not the names, so I'm full of shit with that one). But that was a great scene

Contrast that with a recent short story about a guy who gets locked in a outhouse by a deranged neighbor. Congratulations, Mr. King, you can right about a guy covered in shit for pages and pages and not really have much tension in it at all.

This is the same guy who scared me to death with a possessed washing machine in "The Mangler"

Just use your fucking editor! Goddamn, what, is all your money making you think that every word you write is a precious darling?

I do know that he listened to his editors in Under the Dome (the book, not the seemingly execrable TV show). And it really shows. It works until this tacked on ending that felt like he had written something worse and scrapped it and then wrote another shitty ending and only tried to set up the ending in the last act (where the 'where it as a dress' story is first trotted out).

Sometimes I speculate that his drug use amplified his ability to sit in the guts of a piece until he got it right, and that when he went on the wagon he didn't really develop those instincts.

Sorry Steve-O: generally I think you're all right but damn I think if you could like see your body of work in a hundred years, you would write up a NYT piece arguing the opposite of what you've set forth here.
posted by angrycat at 7:52 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the only problem with writing as many books as King has is that, inevitably, some of them are going to be clunkers. Perhaps even most of them. But I'd say it's misleading to concentrate on the clunkers in King's case, simply because so many of his books weren't clunkers. More than even most successful writers. Yes, there was a quality drop-off somewhere in the early 90s, but he's written a few good ones since then. And of course, his short stories continue to be amazing. I've always thought his short stories were written for a more sophisticated audience; they often have a subtlety that's lacking in his longer novels.
posted by panama joe at 7:59 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not read a King novel for a long while, with the exception of The Dome and that was a slog and a half.

However I'm thinking soon of doing a long term project of (re)-reading all of his short stuff, because, bar may be one or two of his earlier novels, that's where I think his literary legacy lies.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:31 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


a long term project of (re)-reading all of his short stuff

Do that.
His shorts are amazing.
posted by Mezentian at 10:16 AM on August 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


King is a really American author--I think he gets rural America and rural American speech better than any other mainstream author I've come across.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:25 AM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


His latest, Finders Keepers, is excellent. I'll admit the books of the booze & coke years were twice as long as they should have been, but if you got turned off of King because of that, you really need to come back to the fold. The man is a national treasure.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2015


The comparison to Springsteen seems pretty spot on.

Maybe ... if Bruce Springsteen had come from somewhere more Gothic than New Jersey. They both have a handle on something uniquely American, but there's precious little magic in Springsteen's music, black or otherwise -- piles of romance and/or gritty reality, but nothing in the shadows beyond everyday darkness. For me, the musical analog of Steven King would have to contain a metal and/or prog component and, strangely, nothing comes to mind.

Also, jscalzi's right. The Shining is King's masterpiece, I think, because it's so contained. A haunted hotel. A small family alone with a lot of bad blood. And it's different enough from the movie that you never quite know what's coming.
posted by philip-random at 11:06 AM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


King is at his best in books like Misery, which are about fucked-up human beings. I like his style enough that I'll put up with the supernatural waffle, but it's certainly not something I wish he'd use more of.
posted by flabdablet at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


King is a really American author--I think he gets rural America and rural American speech better than any other mainstream author I've come across.
posted by persona au gratin at 10:25 AM on August 29 [+] [!]


QFMFT. That was one of the key successes of Under the Dome. It's an audiobook I've listened to a few times (Raul Esparza narrates). Especially the supporting characters, like the cops, shop owners, and diner-runners. The character of the small town journalist felt real to me too. I've no direct experience with rural Yankees, but the way King describes them feels very right to me.

His Tower-related books I also find interesting, even though I was pretty annoyed with how the series wrapped up. I recently listened to the sequel to Talisman, which is Bleak House (sadly not narrated by Raul Esparza). As a co-author, I find King's stuff to be pretty great. The idea of the Tower and all the worlds and the weird things that inhabit them -- he's created a pretty neat playground.
posted by angrycat at 11:21 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, I think that one success of Under the Dome the book is that it addresses the fear of climate change and societal collapse. Like The Shining is about the fear of an alcoholic that he will hurt those close to him.
posted by angrycat at 11:24 AM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


but there's precious little magic in Springsteen's music, black or otherwise -- piles of romance and/or gritty reality, but nothing in the shadows beyond everyday darkness.

Nebraska could have been written by Stephen King.

Actually, for me anyway, Springsteen is like King in that both did well in the 70's and peaked in the mid-80's. I haven't been able to listen to much Springsteen since Tunnel of Love.
posted by Nevin at 11:58 AM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


And they're alike to me in that they continue to produce material that's not as good as what they did at their peak, but still very good, and not wholly a rehashing of things we've seen before in an attempt to mimic their greatest hits. They're also alike to me in their genuine enthusiasm of their respective crafts and their zeal to continue to produce although both could have packed it in decades ago and lived out rich comfortable retirements.

And it's obviously okay to hate everything they've done since the 1980s, too, we're just talking about matters of taste here.
posted by MoonOrb at 1:26 PM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I used to love to read King, especially the shorter stuff. Well, and the Stand. Well, and It. But I haven't read a King novel in a couple decades. I think Tommyknockers left a bitter taste in my mouth. I did read and enjoy his book on writing. I have all the Dark Tower books sitting on my iPad and can't quite commit. I hear good things, I hear bad things, "her stuck the landing", "he blew it". I just can't decide whether to make the investment in time and emotion.
posted by Ber at 2:48 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


would YOU go to a theme park based on King's books?

Are you fucking kidding me? Where's the URL to buy a season pass?
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:39 PM on August 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


King's problem is the same as George Lucas: He had a small set of good ideas, and when he ran them out he kept going.

No, the problem is creativity without any constraints. A good editor or simply limited film budgets can make all the difference. Or writing partners and creative teams who aren't sycophants. The part of the process where unedited ideas flow onto the page should be the first step of many.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:00 PM on August 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I absolutely love King, and almost exclusively read (is that even the word?) him through audiobooks. I've worked a cubicle-type Excel-focused job for the last 10 or so years, and I will listen to anything he writes (except the Dark Tower series, I just couldn't get into it).

My first King novel was actually Cell, which in hindsight I kind of hated and will never listen to again because I really don't like zombie stuff.

The best has been the short story collections, because when he doesn't feel the need to fill 1000 pages, he is so so so creepy. Full Dark, No Stars was particularly good for being recent.

11.22.63 was really interesting but maybe way too long. Lisey's Story and Duma Beach were also really great. I seriously have listened to Under the Dome about 6 times. It's like 23 hours long, but the scariest parts of it are not the supernatural, but how terrible/wonderful all the characters are under duress. The TV show was shit though, and I hate that they keep going for whatever dumb reason.

I know he is really into audio books, so anyone that used to love King and misses him, give Full Dark, No Stars audio book a chance. It's really amazing.
posted by elvissa at 7:04 PM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have often thought that "governor of Maine" would be a cool coda to King's career. And he would win, wouldn't he?

Compared to Maine's current governor, he would be a beacon of light and wisdom. Of course, that would be true of almost anyone, but still, Gov. King might be alright.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:06 PM on August 29, 2015


I think King's least appreciated pre-IT novel is The Tommyknockers and it's actually my personal favorite, although I know that makes me weird.

We are all entitled to our own opinions, but let's not abuse this privilege, ok?
posted by krinklyfig at 7:10 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My all-time least favorite King book I've always thought of as "the one where they shit out aliens." I thought it was Tommyknockers for years, but apparently it's Dreamcatcher. God, that was awful.
posted by Mavri at 7:53 PM on August 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, WRT relative net worth, J.K. Rowling disputed Forbes' estimate of her financial worth when they made the billion-dollar claim, and they've since revised their estimate downward, although she still may be the most financially successful author ever in terms of gross income before taxes, charitable contributions, etc. Both Rowling and King give a lot of money to charities.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:57 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


King has written a bunch of good books and stories, and some very very good ones, and some pretty middling-to-bleh ones, and pretty much all I care about when you get down to it is the bit where he wrote those good and very very good ones and I got to read them. So I'm inclined to side in general with his argument on this.

That said, I'm gonna need to do a little recon and make an actual effort to get back to his writing at some point, because it really fell to the wayside around the time he wrapped up Dark Tower, compared to the compulsory-read sort of place I had been before that. I'm another person who's had to sort of negotiate the kiboshing of the standard New King Book Gift since I just wasn't getting around to them.

And I'm curious enough about how Under The Dome finished up that I'll probably go look it up, but I bailed on the book probably 1/3rd or so of the way in, not because it was bad per se (it seemed reasonably on par with a lot of his slow-burn Town Eats Itself stories, a little bit Needful Things but without the obvious Meddling Devil) but because it was just so fuckin' grim and full of unlikeable people getting up a head of steam. Just felt like a parade of like racism and rape and murder and torture and no kind of interesting chunk of spooky in sight; the dome itself was playing second fiddle to just sheer unrelenting human awfulness. Maybe it took a really interesting turn somewhere between all that and the terrible ending people are always talking about, but I just had to check out.
posted by cortex at 8:19 PM on August 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Maybe ... if Bruce Springsteen had come from somewhere more Gothic than New Jersey

New Jersey's gothic, it just doesn't share it with strangers, anything could be lurking in those old weathered mansions in Edison after all
posted by The Whelk at 10:06 PM on August 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


We are all entitled to our own opinions, but let's not abuse this privilege, ok?

Tommyknockers has, if I recall, a flying killer Coke machine.
How awesome is that?

(In my head is the same killer Coke machine from Maximum Overdrive, and you know it was once used by the Red King or Randall Flagg.)
posted by Mezentian at 3:28 AM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The apex of King's career is Cujo.


Fixed
posted by Beholder at 4:10 AM on August 30, 2015


The apex of King's career is the scene at the end of The Mist film with the Dead Can Dance song.

Fixed. :)

That said, I do need to re-read Cujo.
posted by Mezentian at 4:22 AM on August 30, 2015


I thought it was Tommyknockers for years, but apparently it's Dreamcatcher.

Dreamcatcher was the last post-IT novel I read on the Christmas gift schedule, and I spent most of it shouting DUDE YOU DID THIS SO MUCH BETTER IN THE TOMMYKNOCKERS.
posted by Bringer Tom at 7:19 AM on August 30, 2015


The Tommyknockers has a good premise, but it's too long and loses its focus occasionally in a way that some of King's other long works don't (particularly The Stand, even in the uncut version). I knew that I was in for some rough sledding when I realized that he had incorporated a previously-published story, "The Revelations of 'Becka Paulson", into it. It's a neat little story, and he sort of makes it work in the longer narrative, but there's no real reason to have put it in, and the novel would have worked fine without it. I'm still not sure why King folded it into the book, unless it's just one of those ideas that sounds brilliant when you're stoned, or if he thought that the story's previous publication didn't give it enough exposure (being in an obscure little publication like Rolling Stone), in which case he could have put it in one of his numerous short story collections, but whatever.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:42 AM on August 30, 2015


Yeah, Jack, all valid criticisms of Tommyknockers, which suffered from two problems. One, as King himself has written, it was written in such a haze of coke and booze fuelled manic activity that King can't remember writing it. The other is that it got essentially no editing, because in addition to the publishers not touching his words any more one of the close friends he had depended on to read his stuff had recently died. So it's basically a rough draft that should have had a lot of work before we saw it.

But as a meditation on the horror of what technology and our own inherent self-domestication does to us as individuals, it's fucking brilliant, probably better than anything else out there on that subject simply because it's not earnestly trying to advance a RL agenda. If you're not aware of certain studies and phenomena you wouldn't even realize just how specific all of the Tommyknockers' characteristics are. As mentioned upthread, the guy is much better read than he likes to let on; he does this "aw shucks I just tell stories" thing in interviews but when he published Carrie he was a college english professor. Tommyknockers had all the elements in place to be a really great story, except that all the people who should have caught him let him whuff it.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:27 PM on August 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking of King, just today I watched the movie adaptation of The Mist, and while there were some nice surprises in it, like some of the casting choices (I never would have picked Toby Jones as Ollie, the dorky assistant supermarket manager turned gunslinger, but he was great), but I'm not crazy about the change to the end; King himself approved of it, but it didn't work for me, possibly because it required a better actor than Thomas Jane to sell it. One of the things that I liked about the story is that it left certain things a mystery, such as the fate of David's wife (although there's little real doubt as to what happened), and I thought that the new ending was a bit of cheap pseudo-irony in the ray-ee-yayn on your wedding day variety.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:57 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've read a bunch of his novels, including three of the Dark Tower books -- a diminishing-returns problem sets in fast, but the first one (even rewritten) is brutal and spare and packs a surprising emotional punch in the scene beneath the ground ('There are other worlds...'). When he's on, he's the grandmaster his fans say he is. His short stories are killer. (The riddle-train in v3 or v4 of The Dark Tower sucked. His self-editing faculty is...fallible.)

On Writing contains conventional writing advice, mostly -- it's a tiresome genre -- but like the intros/afterwords in his Dark Tower novels, it's candid and unprepossessing. And correct. I was glad to read it. His book on horror, Danse Macabre, is excellent; the opening sequence, in which King describes first hearing about Sputnik, is perfect.

King cares about people and stories that most 'literary' novelists wouldn't touch with rubber gloves on. That's sufficient reason to pick up his work; thankfully there are others.
posted by waxbanks at 6:27 PM on August 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


One more thing:

I read World War Z a year or two ago. It was popular and I was curious. The book was good enough for a time, and then terrible -- and the problem is that there's no Stephen King in it at all. Brooks can write 'characters,' but doesn't seem to be able to write people -- his 'oral history of the zombie war' reads like a series of mannered monologues rather than the collection of idiosyncrasies and accidents and regionalisms that you find in, y'know, an actual oral history.

It's also shapeless and enamored of its structure. But Brooks's tin ear for human speech is the book's fatal problem.

I imagine a King book in that style -- The Vagina Dentata Monologues? I dunno -- and feel annoyed that World War Z even exists. King's written his share of Characters, sure, but he cares about People. Reminds me of Pterry, that way.
posted by waxbanks at 6:37 PM on August 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Tommyknockers is largely about creating something in a manic frenzy fueled by foreign substances in your body - something that is ultimately not as creative or as good as you thought it was while in the grip of the frenzy.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:25 PM on August 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


The thing about The Tommyknockers is that, yeah, it's about cocaine addiction, surely—but King's novel published immediately before, Misery, is (at least partially) about admitting one's addiction and the struggle to overcome it. I mean, in the first few pages, Paul Sheldon has three realizations, and "The second was that he was hooked on Novril."

Now, The Tommyknockers is a novel about cocaine addiction written while on cocaine. Danse Macabre is as dense and exciting as a treatise on American Horror can be, and it was definitely written on cocaine. I would go so far as to compare it to Ellroy's White Jazz as a literary exercise in making the reader feel like he or she is on stimulants.
posted by infinitewindow at 10:23 AM on August 31, 2015


The Tommyknockers is largely about creating something in a manic frenzy fueled by foreign substances in your body - something that is ultimately not as creative or as good as you thought it was while in the grip of the frenzy.

That's a really good take on the book, and even though I don't think I have a copy of it (one of the few books of his that I don't), I feel like doing a re-read with that in mind.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:15 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


While I always liked The Tommyknockers I appreciated it a lot more when I read why King kind of disowned it; I suppose it reminds him a little too closely of the worst of what he had to put behind him. The funny thing about it is that I seriously doubt King realized he was writing about himself, but some part of him was using his own talent to scream THIS IS WHAT YOU ARE DOING TO YOURSELF.
posted by Bringer Tom at 11:30 AM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


To echo Halloween Jack and Bringer Tom, I've just checked out The Tommyknockers from the library with the intent of reading it through this lens. Since I probably read it in '89 or '90 when I was fifteen (and would have had no idea about King's state of mind at the time he wrote it), this will be an interesting way to experience it.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:37 AM on September 5, 2015


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