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 truth. This phenomenon occurs 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 sinister. We were living in rural 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 less than a mile from the old Salem Cemetery.
So, I closed King’s books.
Ironically, I’ve watched movie versions of those 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 become real.
Yes. Stephen King had something to tell me. So I opened the cover of Salem’s Lot and began again.
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 a human and certain people who are sensitive can feel it:
“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).
Joseph Campbell, another mentor, says that if you are attracted to a writer, read everything they’ve ever written, for therein lies a secret worth realizing. Next up: Stephen King, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, 2015.