At a conference or gathering of writers, Stephen King once asked Amy Tan what the one question was that no one ever asked during the Q and A following a talk. She gave the question some thought and told him that no one ever asked about language. King agreed that his fellow writer had hit the nail on the head—they never ask about language when the writer is a popular novelist, and one set apart from such as Don DeLillo, John Updike or William Styron.
Soon after that conversation Stephen King wrote a book in which he answers the question about language. The book is called, Stephen King on Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and it is dedicated to the friend and writer who brought the thought to life in his mind, Amy Tan.
For reasons I’m not sure I understand, despite his huge and enduring popularity, too many of Stephen King’s readers pass over the layers in his books and stories, focusing rather on the horror or his simple genius for storytelling. No question that his books can be bone chilling, and only a slab of concrete could resist the pull of his stories, but there is a depth of craft to King’s writing that would impress even William Faulkner.
Probably less than the truth to describe myself as a devoted fan of Stephen King, as one who eagerly awaits each new book, but I have read a fair number of his books, and in each of those King rarely fails to bring some illumination to the human condition, while also offering provocative comment on a society so vulnerable to technology and its addictions. His characters are never one-dimensional, and his themes go far beyond horror and the macabre. Look at Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, or The Body, a novella that inspired the movie, Stand By Me. For a violent look at the extremes of technology-addiction look at Cell.
But my point here is not to review one or any of Stephen King’s many books, rather to point fans toward one of the lesser celebrated of his books, the one written in 2000 and dedicated to Amy Tan. It is a 284 page answer to the question in King’s mind of ‘What about language?’ For my money the book could fill out a six month course on how to write.
Thanks to my friend Shelby for inspiring the subject of this post.