Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Open Letter to Stephen King

Dear Mr. King (or can I call you Stephen?) -

I have read many online articles of late with advance information about your upcoming interview to be published in the Weekend edition of USA Today, March 5-6. Apparently you're not very pleased with the work of one Stephenie Meyer, the millionaire author of the Twilight series. While I realize that everyone has his or her opinion, don't you think it's a little harsh to say that she "can't write worth a darn"? Yes, you give her credit for finding an audience - teenage girls who may not be ready to deal with the idea of actual sex as much as the flush of first love. You give her credit for her pace and stories (though that back-handed compliment is lumped in with the same observation made of James Patterson). But really, couldn't you be just a little bit nicer?

After all, every writer has to start somewhere, and I'd say that for a new writer to find such a massive audience is saying something about her. You started out by throwing Carrie in the trash, did you not? It was your wife who believed in you enough to pull it back out and let the story live. Look how that turned out! (Hmm, weren't you also writing about teenage girls who were dealing with awkwardness, fear, and *gasp* high school locker rooms?)

I'm not sure that your low opinion of Meyer is going to make a dent in her sales, though. I started out being appalled at the big hullabaloo going on at my local Borders when Breaking Dawn was coming out, mostly because they were blocking the entrance. The only thing I'd heard about the series was from a friend of mine (who is several years older than I) who had read the first three books over the summer. I thought, "What is a woman your age doing reading teenager books?" It was the same confusion I had over why people my age were so into Harry Potter, and no, I still haven't read those books. I simply didn't get it.

And then the movie came out, and many more of my blog buddies were talking about the books. I had to take a chance. I read Twilight. Though the writing, granted, in book one was a little weak and full of superfluous adverbs, I continued. Meyer is very wordy, too. But the story sucked me in (no pun intended) and kept me along for the ride. Bella's character was sweet and awkward and stuck between two parents who were not adult enough to really be good parents. Instead of getting into drugs, she chose to watch out for her parents, taking care of them (and boy will her therapy bill be high...). The thing I found unbelievable about her character was that she liked to clean. I have never met a teenager like that, unless he or she was in a manic phase of bipolar disorder.

Now in the third book of the series, I find I am still hooked. I just passed the part in which Jacob kisses Bella, which I was really hoping would leave her confused and maybe a little more drawn to staying human. Time will tell how it all resolves.

If you'll notice there are some classic themes in the books. There is the Romeo & Juliet tragic thread. In the end, both characters end up dead (or will she?). There is the love triangle. Bella can't quite let Jacob go, though she claims there is no one for her but Edward. There is the message that beauty isn't everything, as illustrated by Rosalie's story. We learn that there are rules, even for the wildest among us. We follow along Bella's modern tale of being a child of divorce and geographic distance. And there is the matter of her short-sightedness at believing there is nothing more to life than what she feels in this moment. She has no concept of how life can change.

This isn't the first time I've cringed at something you've said, you know. In your book, On Writing, which I really enjoyed for the most part, you took a crack at technical writers by saying that if you (as a budding writer) weren't willing to sit down and actually put in the hours to produce pages, then you should give up and become a technical writer. Oh boy. Where do I begin on that one?

It hurt. I make my living as a technical writer, and while it isn't perfect -- it does steal my love of sitting down at the computer -- it takes creativity and stamina. It takes talent in many areas: writing, grammar, technical topics (engineering, computer science, etc.). And it is darned hard work. It doesn't deserve to be represented as being any lower than anything else a writer does to pay the bills (working in a retail shop, practicing law, etc.).

You can't fault Meyer for her hard work, based on your own measure of a writer's dedication. You can't say she didn't put in the hours at the computer (or typewriter) or that she didn't work at her craft, can you? But like I said, we each have our own opinion of different writers. I'm not fond of some of your books because they seem like regurgitations of others. In some cases they were simply too gross for me. Others of your books, like The Stand and The Green Mile, were pure inspiration. That is to say that every writer has his or her ups and downs and his or her audience. Meyer has gone far beyond just "writing to a whole generation of girls and opening up kind of a safe joining of love and sex in those books". She's also writing to us middle-aged women who haven't - for a second - forgotten what it was like to be that age and to want a little adventure.

And really, is there anything so bad about leaving out the sex? Aren't kids bombarded on every side with pressure about sex, gangs, drugs, horrifying crimes, and terrorism? I think it's about time someone wrote something that addresses the fact that it's okay, sometimes, to delay gratification, even if your boyfriend is a vampire.

With all due respect, I think maybe you should give her books another try. Or maybe not. She's doing just fine without your approval.

Best regards,


[photo credit]


Sandi McBride said...

Excellent critique of my beloved Mr. King's interview...he does think a lot of himself these days, but then he can now afford to, lol! Great post!

TheWritersPorch said...

Good for you D......
I haven't read the Twilight books nor do I plan to but my daughter and one of my DILaw's have and loved them! Then again I don't read Mr. King either. I read one of his books years ago, Tommynockers"? I think that's the title and though I finished it, I never read him again. He is too twisted for my taste! He should keep his mouth shut about other writers! An author should always practice the quote
"if you can't say something good, then say nothing".


Lorna said...

Good letter, Doris. Stephen King maybe forgot where he came from. By the way, I never got interested in Harry Potter although my neighbor (a man!) loves it.

I just cannot get tempted to read it. Of course, I never read Peter Pan either.


the walking man said...

The Tommyknockers King, Remember The Tommyknockers?

Daryl said...

Sadly I agree with most of Mr King's issues with Ms Meyer's writing. While, IMO, the first book was a fun, involving quick read ... the second, which I looked forward to greatly, well it totally sucked. The first gazillion pages bored me enough to start flipping pages, skimming hoping to find the entertainment I got from the first ... it wasnt til the last 200 pages that I stopped to read and here's what truly cements his/my opinion .. you didnt need to know what had happened before ...

Not good at all.

She may be a TRAZILLIONAIRE but she's not getting rich on me.

And then there's Mr King himself who has phoned in a few ... and the one really good story took him 30 yrs to finish .. Dark Tower is awesome ... come on, Steve, give us more of that sort of writing.

Thanks, Doris, for letting me kidnap your comments and rant.


RiverPoet said...

Sandi - Yes, Mr. King sometimes forgets that we all need to support one another. If he had given a little constructive criticism, that would have been one thing. But that was just a cheap shot. I couldn't resist!

Carol - I agree with you. I mean, if someone asked him to critique today's horror/sci-fi/fantasy authors, that's one thing. But he could have been more constructive about it, not so catty.

Lorna - No, I never read Peter Pan either. For the most part, I'm more of a literary fiction girl - the books that last. But Twilight really hooked me. I'm enjoying the ride.

Mark - ((shudder)) Tommyknockers! And he got accused of ripping off several other writers with that book. It isn't easy being a writer today. I think writers really need to recognize, more than anyone else, how difficult it is to finish writing a book. We don't need to be quite so harsh to each other.

Peace - D

RiverPoet said...

As always, Daryl, all opinions are welcome on my blog. I figure there are lots of people who can’t stand Ms. Meyer’s writing. New Moon, granted, wasn’t the best. I’m finding that Eclipse is a lot better. Yes, she commits some writing sins, but I’m enjoying the stories....

Thanks for the comment! Peace - D

septembermom said...

Writers should support each other, even if they don't agree on style or subject matter. I give any writer credit for taking the plunge into writing. The writing process itself should be respected. Even if I don't personally find any enjoyment reading a particular author, I will not label that writer as not worthy to be read. It is all too subjective.

Meredith Teagarden(The Things we Carried) said...

Personally, I have not read Twilight, but all of my gal pals (except my 25 year old daughter) that read the books enjoyed them. I love good vampire story, and can't help but appreciate anyone whose writing captures an audience and gains a movie deal. I plan to read the first book at least.

Great letter to Mr. King. I happen to like the guy, as far as I can tell, but appreciated your points.

One last thought, Stephanie Meyer might be a fan of Stephen King. What a way to bring her writing balloon back down to earth. Always there is someone ready to prick the surface...

Way to give her some air!

SandyCarlson said...

A little magnanimity goes a long way--and none gets a guy nowhere.

Ms Hen said...

I love love love the Harry Potter books. My 13 year old son got the Twilight book and did not like it. I read it one day on a cold (5 degree weather day) in NYC...and I did not like it. It was cute. But it felt like another book where a clumsy girl had to be rescue by a MAN. In real life now a days there are no men rescuing women.. LOL... (and I think books like this are damaging to young teens and preteens.

Harry Potter books are entwine with so many details that come into PLAY in later books. Rowling writes amazing. And the girls are stronger in their right and not just leaning on the boys. I like the modern theme like that better.

Just my opinion........but if girls are reading more than this book is doing a good service in that regards.. getting kids to read more.

BTW.......The Harry Potter books are way better than the movies.......more details.

I love Tim Burton too....I just saw Coraline......... my 13 year old son would not go...said it would be for babies..lol; so I went with a 55 year old male friend instead...lol. I loved it.

To each their own... like in Al-Anon ...take what you like and leave the rest. Everyone has different taste....

In books; movies and men... lol.

ConverseMomma said...

I don't think she is much of a writer in the stylistic sense, but she knows how to craft a plot, and she is a master of knowing her audience. But, some of the language she uses-Gah! Still, I read every book and went to see the movie, and I'm a book snob. Must say something about her.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

My daughter went online and bought all three books and read them in less than a week, it has gotten her back into reading again..she says they are delightful...whatever it takes, l'm gratefull..

sour grapes me thinks?

Cloudia said...

You make your lving by your pen? I'm so jealous!
You, GO, poet! Aloha

RiverPoet said...

September - I agree. We need to be supportive of each other. That doesn't mean we need to love every book that comes out. Some just don't suit our personal tastes. But it just seems like someone in his position could afford to be a little more magnanimous.

Meredith - Yes, I have many King books on my shelves - some mine, some my daughter's. He's gotten more of my money than Meyer has, and I even have "On Writing" next to my desk. :-)


Ms. Hen - Yes, I'm all for anything that gets kids reading (well, for the most part). Meyer's books aren't for everyone, just as King's books aren't for everyone. I hate to hear him tear up fellow writers, though.

CM - I'm a book snob, too, and I really fought reading the Twilight books. Every now and then, though, I like a frivolous book - even a little James Patterson :-)

FFF - They are fun. And even though the writing is clumsy at times, they are fast-paced stories. I'm just wrapping up book 3.

Cloudia - Yes, I do. It's a tough job, but I love being able to write for a living!

Peace - D