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It would be anticlimactic to say that the airline also lost my one suitcase. But it happened. I was to
leave on Tuesday afternoon. The bag showed up Monday night. Delta claims it's ready when I am —
But I can't help thinking about the cameraman on that Cecil B. DeMille epic who, after a massive
battle scene during which all the other cameras were either destroyed or malfunctioned, grinned at
the director and said: "Ready when you are, C.B."
It's no wonder Stephen Kings writes what he does.
Now the New York Times Book Review may not care for his work, and Kirkus doesn't like
ANYTHING that smacks of intelligence, but I'm here to tell you something you already know —
we have in our midst a writer not only of immense talent (a talent that somewhat frighteningly
continues to develop), but also a man/writer of finely tuned sensitivity. Because it is not the "thing"
in the story that makes a horror novel (or shorter piece) effective, it's the people. Cardboard characters faced with slobbering, gibbering, mauling, stinking, clawed-and-fanged, slithering, moaning,
bloody, headless, mindless, foul creatures only get soggy. They do not get frightened. They are not
terrified. And if they are not frightened, or terrified, then we aren't either.
On the other hand, characters who live, breathe, love, hate, fornicate, wheel-and-deal, pray, smile,
drink, lust, dedicate, and learn, do get frightened. They do get terrified. And when that happens, so
do we. It's an absolutely fool-proof equation: real people equal real emotions.
Stephen King knows it well
And there's no sense at all asking where, or how, he came by it. He was born and raised in Maine,
has spent all but six years ofhis life there, and probably doesn't give a damn that Delta Airlines has
to turn on the headlights to find the Bangor airport. Why should he, when he has all he needs right
in his pocket: a marvelously witty and extraordinary wife named Tabitha, three children that make me
wish I were a rich uncle so I could spoil them rotten, a state that's as beautiful as any I've seen, and
... an avocation that also happens to be his career.
Of course, he wasn't always a writer. First there were those fun-filled years at the University of
Maine where, in 1968, he met Tabitha. On their second date he took her to the drive-in. He kissed
her. She said: "What did you have for dinner?" He said "Spaghetti." She said: "Went a little heavy
on the oregano, didn't you?" To get her off his back, he married her in 1971. He has a B.S. Degree
from the College of Education, taught high school English before he got smart and got the hell out.
His first published story was called "The Glass Floor" and appeared in THE MAGAZINE OF
STARTLING STORIES. Fifteen or twenty pieces later he sold Carrie for an advance that's too
insulting even to type. He fishes, hikes, plays guitar, has a VCR camera, reads, sees every damned
horror movie that comes down the pike, and rides a Yamaha 650.
We all have our favorite King novel (mine happens to be 'Salem'sLot), and we all have our favorite scenes in those books we rank slightly lower (mine, here, is the topiary scene in The Shining). But
no matter which it is, it's a solid bet that the effectiveness of the scene lies not suprisingly with a
vivid lead-in, an undisturbed continuity and, most importantly, real people.
And these people are not necessarily the protagonists. They are secondary and tertiary characters.
They are leagues ahead of what might be in another writer's hands mere spear carriers. They are
Stuart Ullmann and Dick Hallorann, Larry Crockett and Dud Rogers, Eva Miller and Ann Norton,
Nadine Cross and Abagail Freemantle, Donald Elbert and Lloyd Henreid. An extraordinary cross-
section not of characterization but of humanity. They do nothing they're not supposed to, and they
do everything they should. Real. People. No more (for they would be incomprehensible) and no less
(for then they would be unbelieveable).
And the horrors and the triumphs that they survive or not are played on a stage that is as grandly
constructed as the real world itself. Because it is the real world. It's a place where the reader lives