I read The Shining in four days. This book really grabs me. I read it in the mornings, after finishing my paper route and before heading off to school. I read it on the bus to and from school. I read it in my bed at night (big mistake because the nightmares are legendary).
I finish The Shining all too soon, so once I have enough paper route money, I head back to Graves Drugstore and buy Salem's Lot and Carrie. I can't get enough Stephen King.
I have always loved reading. Now, I want to be a writer.
In the years that follow, my Mom will buy me a hardbound Stephen King novel every year for either Christmas or my birthday. I still have the hardbound copy of The Shining she bought at a used book store with the original cover, a collage of Jack Torrance, Wendy Torrance, little Danny Torrance, and the hedge animals all superimposed under the ominous Overlook Hotel.
In the front, she writes, "Happy 17th birthday! I love you! - Mom."
It is September 1994. I am 31 years old, and I have been in Alcoholics Anonymous and sober for just over five months. In that time, I have lost a job I hated, and taken on two jobs I love--one teaching and one working at a newspaper.
In my sobriety, I have contacted my professors at Kansas State University and tell them that I want to finish my thesis. I already have the requisite hours of coursework, but I need that thesis and the final exam to get my Masters degree. I am an English major, and part of my thesis mentions Stephen King, contrasting King’s brand of popular fiction (which had such an influence on me much to the chagrin of my writing professors) with the more literary stuff we read in grad school.
Dr. Heller, my major professor, tells me that coincidentally Stephen King is going to speak at K-State on October 15 (two days before my six-month sobriety birthday). By pulling a few strings, my prof gets me a gig as an usher.
It is a Saturday, October 15, 1994. Two days before I get my six-month chip in AA. The day after Pulp Fiction opened in theaters.
I am at waiting outside a lecture hall on the K-State campus, waiting with the other ushers to see Stephen King. The other ushers are all about ten years younger than me, and they an't stop talking about Pulp Fiction. All I can think about is how six months earlier, I had my face in a filthy toilet, vomiting my guts out ... and now I'm sober and ushering at a Stephen King lecture.
Earlier that day, K-State’s football team played a key game against Nebraska. Stephen King speaks to us wearing a K-State shirt. He tells us that riding his motorcycle into Manhattan, Kansas, was like something out of his novel The Stand, since everyone was at the game and the rest of the town seemed empty ... until a distant roar echoed across the Kanza as K-State scored its only touchdown.
K-State lost that day 17-6. Stephen King makes a joke during Q&A about the film version of Children of the Corn, saying that “there's more than one stinker from Nebraska.”
Afterwards, I am invited to a party, where I get to meet Stephen King. I shake his hand. I make a fool of myself (think of that sketch Chris Farley used to do on SNL when he meets famous people and says, “You know that part in your movie where …”).
Stephen King comments on my Elvis tie. He says how much he likes it. He even touches it.
It is January 2001. I am at a special dinner at the Writers Guild in Los Angeles, having just been awarded a screenwriting fellowship at Walt Disney Studios/ABC Television. The Guild lawyers are about to go in for more talks to hopefully avert a writer's strike. Should that strike happen, I and the other screenwriting fellows will be shut out of the fellowship.
This is serious business for the aspiring writer
I am wearing that Elvis tie. An attorney for the Guild sees it and admires it, just as Stephen King did seven years earlier.
I say, “Stephen King touched this tie. Touch it yourself for good luck going into these talks with the studios.”
The attorney touches the tie. The strike is averted.
Dan Torrance is an alcoholic, but he gets into AA, and he gets sober.
Just as Stephen King did shortly after finishing Cujo.
Just as I did on April 17, 1994.
Stephen and Dan and I all have a really cool and really big thing in common. We share the same sickness but we share the same solution as well. In the TV miniseries of The Shining, for which King wrote the teleplay and served as executive producer, the ghosts of the Overlook tell Dan's father Jack that he is crazy, to which Jack replies: "I was ... but I'm better now."
My wife, who is the toughest writing critic, says that Doctor Sleep has elements that remind her a bit of my trilogy, The Glaring Chronicles. Then again, my wife has often pointed out the influence of King in all of my writing.
Case in point, my first novel, By Demons Driven, is about alcoholism, time travel, and baseball (three things King has also enjoyed writing about). The first draft of Demons was overlong and convoluted, and I wasn’t sure I could trim off the requisite hundreds of pages to make it readable.
Then I read Lisey’s Story by Stephen King.
I liked the narrative structure of that novel, which jumps back and forth between the present-day story of widow Lisey Landon and the past story of her late husband Scott. Since my book By Demons Driven covers time travel and includes key events from two different decades, I decided to apply the same narrative structure that King used for Lisey’s Story in my rewrite.
By Demons Driven became Pitch. It won first place in the 2012 Balboa Press Fiction Contest. Stephen King, by virtue of his talent, had unconsciously given me excellent writing notes without even reading the manuscript.
I'm sitting at my desk now, listening to the climax of Doctor Sleep. I am crying.
Those who have read the book, and who know what has gone on with me these last 18 months or so, will understand why I weep. For those who have not, I will say this much: Dan Torrance and I have another thing in common. The big difference is, I got to bury my father; Dan Torrance did not get to bury his.
Better now. Not much else to say but this:
Cheers to you, Mr. King. Through all the times in life when I didn’t think I had people who “got” me, it seems that you were one person who did. I won’t terrify you by telling you I’m your “biggest fan,” but I will say I have spent almost 37 years with you, the last 20 or so being the best because we have both been sober.
Like you say at the end of Doctor Sleep, the world is a wheel that always comes back around.
Or something to that effect.
What a long strange trip it has been.