Like most mystery writers, I first learned to read. The writing of others can not only be enjoyable, but downright inspiring. We authors, whether writing mystery stories, literary dramas or comic books (now known as graphic novels) largely hone our skills by reading what we like—what inspires us. And while Stephen King isn’t my favorite author, and I’m by no means a Stephen King Aficionado, his name popped up at the top of the list on a recent survey I outsourced for one of my murder mystery novels.
The survey question:
1. Who are your favorite mystery writers?
Fully 16% of the respondents named Stephen King.
(John Grisham and James Patterson tied for second with 11%)
Stephen King – a Mystery Writer?
Don’t know about you, but I don’t think of Stephen King as a “Mystery Writer.” While his work is full of mystery, suspense, horror and piercing insight into the human condition, I’ve never thought of him as a writer of mystery stories. A perusal of Gerald’s Game, or a quick glimpse of a short story’s hotel maid cleaning up a patron’s ejaculate will give you clues. Of course, Edgar Allan Poe is widely considered an early pioneer of the mystery genre. And if he isn’t a horror writer, I don’t know who is—go figure. Yet the reading public is NEVER wrong. If they say Stephen King is their favorite mystery writer, then so be it. (Shows you what I know. And, by the way, that’s why I do surveys . . .)
Stephen King – On Writing
In an effort to better understand this apparent paradox (and maybe learn something), I recently purchased Stephen King
On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft. But before we go there, take a gander at some of his stats.
From StephenKing.com, the official web site, under News: The Hollywood Reporter – “Hollywood’s 25 Most Powerful Authors – 1. Stephen King Known For: ‘The Shining,’ ‘The Stand,’ ‘The Shawshank Redemption.’ Big number: 53 novels and 400 million copies sold.”
Part of the author blurb on On Writing’s back cover states, “. . . the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers.”
Proclaimed at the back cover’s top: “One of TIME MAGAZINE’S TOP 100 NONFICTION BOOKS of all time.”
No matter how you slice it, the man is a professional, knows what-the hell he’s doing and as such, it behooves me to pay close attention when he writes about writing. I’m probably nine/tenths of the way through his On Writing treatise—impressive, to say the least.
Mystery Writer or Not—a Few Takeaways
I could go on for several paragraphs, but I’m learning. It’s not the quantity of words, it’s what communicates best that matters.
First, as a writing reference there are a handful of nonfiction books every writer needs, the gist of which make up the “craft”—rules of the game. These include:
- The Elements of Style – Strunk and White
- Merriam-Webster’s Guide to Punctuation and Style
- Stein On Writing – Sol Stein
I’m sure there are others that belong on this list, but it’s an exclusive list nonetheless. Producing a seminal book on writing is a stellar achievement, and not an easy feat, as Stephen King would remind us with the opening sentence of his Second Foreword: “. . . most books about writing are filled with bullshit.” Yet, Stephen King has managed to shoulder his way into this elite mix with an incomparable reference for writers.
Personally, I was tickled to find that many of my writing routines are similar to Mr. King’s and I agree with most everything else. (We all have our professional preferences.) I was also elated to discover his pearls of wisdom. You can bet I will put them to good use.
The only shortcoming is attributable to timing. On Writing was first published in 1999, long before the current Print On Demand/Self-Publishing evolution; and his advice on agents and publishers is outdated. Otherwise this is a timeless classic that belongs in every writer and reader’s library.
to that list.
Secondly, the method Mr. King uses to convey these gems of knowledge is captivating, cloaking practical advice in a revealing glimpse into the man and his life. It’s a man of honesty and integrity that will speak the truth about his personal life—too tempting for most to air grievances and/or pound a bully pulpit. Stephen King does not flinch, giving you both barrels of the bad and the ugly. Well Done! While from afar it may look like a bestselling author’s existence is a dream come true, he lets us know his life hasn’t exactly been a bowl of cherries. (But then, whose is?) Trust me Stephen, we all have our Bryan Smiths to confront. And the more fortunate among us have our Tabitha Kings.
I found myself not only agreeing with his astute observations on writing, but flat out liking the guy. This is a fascinating read for anyone—writer or not. As a result, I’m eager to read more of his fiction. Here’s to Mr. King’s continuing success.
I highly recommend Stephen King
On Writing – A Memoir of the Craft.
I would be interested to see your comments regarding Stephen King’s On Writing or any of his work.
(Warning. Here comes the blatant plug.) More on my murder mystery novels can be found at http://michaelallanscott.com/
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