I have been drafting this letter for the last twenty-seven years.
Versions of it are scattered across the discarded hard drives of my past.
I’m on sabbatical this year, a year in which this platform for free-form writing has flourished, so it seems like a fortuitous time to actually push these words into the world.
So here goes.
Can I call you Stephen? Since we’ve been intimate for many decades now, I feel like it must be ok to address you by your first name. But of course I am a stranger to you, and you likely won’t ever read these words.
But that’s ok. I really just wanted to express what your writing has meant to me over the years, to put these thoughts out there in the universe.
My mother and my older brother were fans before me. At about age 9 or 10, I’d observe them burning through your novels and listen in on their conversations about your ‘verse with bated breath. I began a pestering campaign to be able to read your books — I was particularly captivated by IT. Something about the ominous lizardy hand crawling out of a sewer grate, the simplicity of the title, and the sheer weight of the book gripped my imagination.
I wore my mom down to the point where she finally agreed to let me read my first Stephen, but she insisted I start with Eyes of the Dragon — that lovely little gem of a fairy tale you wrote for your daughter Naomi. I gobbled that up, and she next pointed me at The Talisman, that operatic hero’s journey replete with multiple universes and a quest to save the queen. After that I think she lost control of my reading train.
In early high school my future husband, who sat behind me in homeroom all four years, saw that I was reading The Long Walk and drummed up a brief conversation about the story. That night I wrote a poem about the encounter. It wasn’t until recently that I put it together that I married the first boy who would talk to me about Stephen King.
High laugh, blue eyes, quick smile
Young, yet believes nothing.
Yes weird, my friend, freaky
How death and pain and longing
Twist and turn like lovers.
Draw me, pretty cynic,
For I cannot.
Long before you would receive the National Medal of the Arts from President Obama, I scribbled out angry defenses of your work to the imagined crowds of literary snobs surrounding me. How you understood the human condition more than any other writer I’d encountered. How you could write convincingly in women’s voices, children’s voices, hell, animal voices. How your ability to write in such a way that time and reality are suspended as your story unfolds is unsurpassed.
Is everything you have produced great literature? Of course not. (This is a love letter so I won’t tarry here, but I have to agree with Tabitha regarding the one about the shit-weasels). But while on sabbatical I’ve been reading several books about creativity and all of them have pointed to the fact that geniuses produce a lot of work, and that they often produce their best works at times when they also produce their worst works: Shakespeare writing Hamlet and Macbeth around the same time as plays and sonnets mostly forgotten about, Edison designing a creepy talking doll around the same time as the lightbulb.
Or as Pat Rothfuss points out on Twitter, even Picasso once drew a butt.
But while everything you write is not uniformly of the same quality, I read voraciously across genres and have never encountered a more heart-stopping consideration of the horrors of addiction than The Shining, a more accurate portrayal of the intoxication of young love than in Wizard and Glass, or a more touching and real-t0-life portrayal of marriage than in Lisey’s Story.
Sharing as much brainspace as we did in my formative years, I am certain that you were instrumental in shaping my understanding of bravery and friendship and romantic love. Of truth.
Your works also provided me with a therapy of sorts, performing a feat that dark fiction so often does for humanity — confirming our fears about the threats that lurk around corners and under our beds, but allowing us the confrontation and resolution of these fears so that we can carry on with the everyday minutia of living.
For all of this, I thank you. I thank you for existing, for putting your words on paper, for letting me join you in your journey on this swiftly tilting planet of ours.
Recently my nine-year-old and I read Eyes of the Dragon together. At one of the duh!-duh!-duh! chapter transitions, she looked at me, eyes wide, and said, “Mom! Stephen King really knows how to tell a story.”
He does indeed, my dear. He does indeed.
(Your Most) Constant Reader