The Write Stuff

Quote of the Day: “You said you’d stand by me in the middle of Chapter Three/But you were up to your old tricks in Chapters Four, Five and Six…” – Elvis Costello, “Everyday I Write the Book”

American Idols: Right as I was turning 16 years old, more convinced than ever that I was going to forego college, move to Paris or Istanbul, and be a writer, I decided that perhaps I should meet some writers and find out exactly how they wrote books and lived their lives. So I set about writing letters to writers that I loved. That year I wrote to Stephen King and John Irving and Lawrence Block . King because 1) Salem’s Lot was the scariest novel I’d ever read and I needed to find out how he managed to create it and b) I was going to write my Senior Paper about him (instead of Fitzgerald or Faulkner or Hemingway like all the other run-of-the-mill suck-ups in my English class). Irving because no novel up to that point—no adult “literary” novel, at least—had so captivated my imagination or lived inside me so long after I’d finished it like The World According to Garp. Block because he wrote a funny column about writing in Writer’s Digest and I’d just discovered the beauty and precision of his gritty, hard-boiled New York-set mystery novels. As different as they all were, they did have something in common, something that I wouldn’t have been able to articulate then: all three of these guys were (and are) masters of craft and character, who all had a dedication to the solid, sturdy art of good commercial storytelling.

I never heard back from Irving, but King and Block both wrote me back. King encouraged me to finish the novel I’d started writing that summer and even advised me on some outside sources I could reference for my paper about him. Block encouraged me to read as much good stuff as I could get my hands on and to stay focused. Over the years, when I felt depressed or sad or like a bad writer who’d never make it, I’d take out those short letters and re-read them. I often wish I could still find them, but they’re now somewhere in the detritus of post-college, post-many-moves limbo where the wild things go. It’s because of those letters (and others I got thru the years from other writers) that I always try to get back to young writers who have questions about the mysteries of the writer’s life.

That said, it was amazing and inspiring to find a conversation between Stephen King and John Irving in a New England newspaper, talking about writing, craft, life. I enjoyed it. If you enjoy writers talking books and writing, check it out: The Bennington Banner.

(By the way, I got an A on my Stephen King paper—about the portrayal of kids and the supernatural in the fiction of SK. One day, if you’re good, I’ll sit you down and bore you with my other favorite SK discussion topic: The Role of the All-Powerful Negro in the Fiction of Stephen King. If you’re a fan of his, you’ve probably already thought about it.)

Essential Stephen King: The Stand, Salem’s Lot, Night Shift, IT, The Dead Zone

Essential Lawrence Block: When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, A Walk Among the Tombstones, A Dance at the Slaughterhouse, 8 Million Ways to Die, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit

Essential John Irving: The World According to Garp, A Widow For One Year, The Cider House Rules

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Perhaps the Wind Really Did Cry “Mary”?: So, according to a new bio of Jimi Hendrix, the guitar god supposedly pretended to be gay to get out of the military. Not that he was against the war in Viet Nam or anything political like that…

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