Reading Stephen King’s 1991 article “The Symbolic Language of Dreams” blissed out my writer’s spirit–that seed deep in my soul that ruptures occasionally when watered with shivering truth. This phenomenon occurs too rarely and signalled that the man had something to tell me.
I remember reading Salem’s Lot in the late 1970s. It was the book that turned me off horror. Not because it was bad—because it was mesmerizingly sinister. We were living in rural southern Ontario at the time, and my husband, a musician, was on the road three weeks out of four. Our farm, set well back from the road, was a staggering breath away from Salem Road and a friend of mine dug graves less than a mile up that road at Salem Cemetery.
And so, I closed King’s books. Ironically, I’ve watched movie versions of his books over the years: Misery, Hearts in Atlantis, Carrie, Stand by Me, The Green Mile, Dolores Claiborne; and I love Haven so much I’m ready to relocate clear across the country.
But books are different. Perhaps because the images emerge from our own imagination. Words perch at your fingertips, thirsting for a stream of blood; an opening where absorbed through the flesh and synapse, they can become real.
My current Hollystone Mysteries series features some sinister vampires, so I opened the cover of Salem’s Lot and began again.
And what did I learn from the Master?
pacing: keep the reader in a slow pant so by the time you hit the climax they’re craving it like a drug
detail: slow it all down by painting graphic pictures with your words
heroes are not always leading men. In Salem’s Lot, the unlikely four who take on Barlow the vampire are: an elderly English teacher, a young novelist, a doctor, and a twelve-year-old boy who makes models of monsters.
allow your eccentric beliefs to emerge and flourish. The following dialogue from Salem’s Lot reflects a personal belief that nonhuman objects can take on the emotions of human’s actions and certain people who are sensitively tuned can feel it. I concur with the narrator in this passage; not that he hallucinated the whole thing, but that houses and landscapes absorb emotions that can manifest with the right catalyst.
“Probably I was so keyed up that I hallucinated the whole thing. On the other hand, there may be some truth in that idea that houses absorb the emotions that are spent in them, that they hold a kind of… dry charge. Perhaps the right personality, that of an imaginative boy, for instance, could act as a catalyst on that dry charge, and cause it to produce an active manifestation of … of something. I’m not talking about ghosts, precisely. I’m talking about a kind of psychic television in three dimensions. Perhaps even something alive. A monster, if you like” (42).