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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
Scribners Books, 288 pages

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Stephen King
Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine, in 1947. He attended the grammar school in Durham, Maine, and then Lisbon Falls High School, graduating in 1966. King graduated from the University of Maine at Orono in 1970, with a B.S. in English and qualified to teach at the high school level. He met his wife, Tabitha, in the stacks of the Fogler Library at the University of Maine of Orono, where they both worked as students. Unable to find a teaching job, the couple lived on his earnings as a labourer at an industrial laundry, and her student loan and savings, with an occasional boost from a short story sale to men's magazines. In the fall of 1971, King began teaching high school English classes at Hampden Academy, the public high school in Hampden, Maine. In the spring of 1973, Doubleday & Co. accepted his novel Carrie for publication. A few months later, its paperback sale provided him with the means to leave teaching and write full-time.

Stephen King Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Hearts in Atlantis
SF Site Review: The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon
SF Site Review: Bag of Bones
SF Site Review: Storm of the Century
Bag of Bones Website
The Green Mile Website
Stephen King Tribute Site
Stephen King Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Hank Luttrell

An Open Fan Letter To Stephen King

Dear Mr King:

I just wanted to write to thank you for this book. I enjoyed it, and I will be recommending it to as many readers as I can. I think your practical, no nonsense approach to writing, and your advice about what tools are needed and what approach to pursue will be of use to people interested in writing. Your autobiographical notes will be of great interest to fans of your writing, and even for those readers who aren't trying to write fiction, it is fascinating to see the gears and levers at work behind the curtains.

I'm a relative newcomer to reading your books. The first one I read was Bag of Bones. I had a few reservations about it, but in general I thought it was fascinating, compelling storytelling. I know now, from your thoughts in On Writing, that you think books should be about something. The theme in Bag of Bones that I found most interesting were the ideas your protagonist had about popular fiction and recreational reading. I suspect we share this intense interest in recreational reading, its place in our society, its importance to us as individuals, the possibility that it is becoming less important in our culture.

I also liked your Hearts in Atlantis. I can't help but feel that some of it was a bit autobiographical, because your story about going to college in the 60s really brings back my own memories. (We are about the same age.) Your autobiographical notes in On Writing also bring back a lot of my own memories. I believe your family might have had a harder time of it than mine. I know it was hard for my parents to provide for a family that grew to include six kids, but I don't recall the kind of stress that you write about.

The way you and your brother explored the woods near your home resonated. My walks in the wilds around my home, along the banks of the Sugar Creek in St Louis County, are some of my fondest memories.

I didn't get to go to as many movies as you did. I might have had a few more dimes in my pocket, and I ranged as widely as I wanted down the creek, but my parents didn't let me go into town by myself until I was much older! I was also a great fan of Roger Corman's Edgar Allen Poe movies, although I didn't go to see them until the 70s when they played rerun houses in the campus town where I lived then. Maybe that's why I remember that Conqueror Worm (also know as Witchfinder General) wasn't a Corman movie at all, but a British historical film with Vincent Price that American International, the US distributor, thought it could graft onto the Poe series with a misleading title.

I have one other nit to pick. Several times you thanked Algis Budrys for giving you a little practical advice while you were submitting stories to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction's slush pile. Algis Budrys? Now, maybe I'm just uninformed about this. Budrys is a great writer and editor, but I don't think he ever worked for Fantasy and Science Fiction. (Maybe he was there as an uncredited first reader or assistant?) You aren't confusing him with Anthony Boucher, are you?

I think I remember reading that your first professional sale was to an editor named Robert A. W. Lowndes, then editing a number of low-budget horror and science fiction magazines. I loved those magazines, notably The Magazine of Horror, despite their bargain basement appearance. Have any stories about Doc Lowndes?

You know, I had no idea that you had such serious problems with alcohol and cocaine. Is this widely known, or are these autobiographical details openly revealed in this book for the first time? Well, no matter. Congratulations on overcoming these problems. Your account of the near-fatal accident when you were hit by an automobile, and your recovery, was moving. The fact that this book was on your desk when you were able to begin writing again is an interesting coincidence, considering the autobiographical content. We all deal with many challenges and traumas in our lives, and I think many of your readers will be able find strength in these recollections.

Copyright © 2000 by Hank Luttrell

Hank Luttrell has reviewed science fiction for newspapers, magazines and websites. He was nominated for the Best Fanzine Hugo Award and is currently a bookseller in Madison, Wisconsin.

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