So a good friend and I traveled to Fairfax, Va. on Friday to see Stephen King. It’s an almost three hour drive and, most appropriately, it was a raining, dismal day.
I have to admit that I’ve not read much by Mr. King. There I said it. Now, let me explain. I read several of his books in high school, then I moved on to college, where literature grabbed me by the guts. Stephen King? Just a genre writer. And I simply didn’t have time for him. Oh, youth.
Here I am in my forties (a-hem) and what am I doing with all of my “literary” talent? Writing mysteries. I have a whole new respect, love, and admiration for genre writers—particularly highly successful ones like King. He is a household name and very few writers can claim that.
On the stage at George Mason University, he was entertaining, funny, down to earth, and as you would imagine, a bit well, um, creepy. But what do you expect from King, right?
He spoke about how his inspiration for his stories. He told anecdotes about what it’s like to be a famous writer. He also surprised me a bit by his answer to this question: How do you feel about censorship? Of course, I assumed he’d say, “I’m appalled by any of it.” But instead he said (and I’m paraphrasing): “Parents should have some say in what their kids read. Taxpayers should have a say in what books are in the public school libraries. But they shouldn’t be assholes about it.” Very sensible. Yet, a little shocking to me. It leaves the door open for so many possibilities, like which taxpayers get to decide what my kid reads. (That, my friend, is probably the fodder of another blog post.)
But in any case, as a writer, the most important thing I heard him say was about his philosophy as he approached each story. It’s a philosophy his mom taught him. During moments of stress or anxiety, think about the worst possible out come—and that probably won’t happen. So whatever else happens, it’ s got to be better.
So when he sits down to write, he starts with the question: What is the worst possible thing that can happen in this situation?
Here I am—a debut novelist— and just being in his presence was sort of mind blowing. Of course, I am fraught with anxiety over this next big step in my career. It’s a long and twisty road from cookbook writing to mystery writing. My brain flips through the many ways in which I might fail. But I’m going to hang on to those words of his—not just in my writing, but in my life. The worst possible thing that can happen to me has nothing to do with the success or failure of this book. I’d be seriously disappointed if it completely failed. But, as for me, I’ll be okay—no matter what—I am rooted in the firm love of my family and friends. With that, I can take whatever comes my way.