Stephen King is My Guru (On Stranger Things #2)


Stephen King was the first author I really fell in love with. I’ve read more of his books than any single other writer. His book On Writing was the most influential on my own career and writing (which are sometimes, but not always, the same).

I was looking for my two favorite quotes from King about being a writer and some thoughtful Wikipedia editor has already done the work of combing them together for me in a single paragraph:

King’s formula for learning to write well is: “Read and write four to six hours a day. If you cannot find the time for that, you can’t expect to become a good writer.” He sets out each day with a quota of 2000 words and will not stop writing until it is met. He also has a simple definition for talent in writing: “If you wrote something for which someone sent you a check, if you cashed the check and it didn’t bounce, and if you then paid the light bill with the money, I consider you talented.

Before King was making the big bucks with novels, he was a humble English teacher. I think this probably stuck with him. He has written an enormous amount of advice on craft over the years aspiring writers can turn to for inspiration. A good place to start would be his “Top 20 Rules for Writers.” He has several different reading lists online. The last link is a list of 96 books he says he’s learned a thing or two from.

My real dream career has always been to write horror professionally. I don’t know if I’ve ever even told anyone that before, other than my wife. People know that I’d like to write something other than ads (no complaints, really). It feels a bit odd to even type it for some reason.

King has always been my unofficial mentor. His approach is so straightforward: read and write for hours, don’t let anything get in the way. Simple. But challenging. Right now I’ve been cranking away on some very bizarre short stories. My goal was to have twelve of them done by Christmas, but I’ve fallen behind a bit. I think King would have no time for excuses, so I can’t offer any.

stephen king in Sons of Anarchy wallpaper

Critics like to shit all over his work, but they can go fuck themselves. His stories are consistently engaging. His working class characters stand up as some of the most realized I’ve met on the page. He is a towering figure in horror and much of what is made now is responding to his work. The most obvious recent example is Stranger Things. It has his DNA all over it.

King really nails the feeling of being an adolescent. He revels in the awkwardness of puberty and mobilizes the high strung emotions of the outsider teen about as well as anyone ever has. Stranger Things is about kids who live in between spaces, most obviously the shadow world, but it’s also about being between marriages. Between friendships. The transition from chaste childhood to teenage sexual awareness.

A tension explored in King’s work and the show is between American banality and dark cosmic forces. In the 80s, the cul de sac and the suburb were calcifying death. Now I’d give anything to live in a boring city like King’s fictional Castle Rock or the town from Stranger Things. There’s a soothing nostalgia about these spaces. They aren’t falling apart due to white flight or being altered by gentrification.


The boring places in these stories have to be so straight laced, so Friday Night Lights, because there needs to be some balance to the unending and impossible horror of the dread beyond. I think this might be why modern horror is so unsatisfying. The world itself is batshit insane. Sure, a clown in a sewer is scary, but ISIS is cutting people’s genitals off in a nightclub in Paris. How do the dark forces even compete with that?

Stranger Things reignited my interest in Stephen King. Earlier today I thought about how interesting it might be to read all of his books in chronological order and write about it. What would forty years of one man’s vision of terror tell us about the real terror we experience now?

Stranger Things came along at just the right time. I’m obsessive about things and like to get very deep into them. Lately, I’ve been focused on the soul devouring feces storm that is our Presidential election. Even though I’ve already decided on my vote and will likely not convince anyone to change theirs, I’ve followed every story about the demonic orange baboon and his opponent, the career politician who represents all the cruel compromises our souls make on the way to hell.


For at least a little while, the story of a few boys and the incredible girl they found in the woods has taken my mind off the true horror of our world. I think this might be a big part of the appeal of this show.

In Eleven’s world, there are no internet trolls. At the time of the story, Al Qaeda was helping us fight the Russians. There are no freak outs about who goes in what bathroom. Stranger Things is about as apolitical as it gets. It’s a safe space from people who are concerned about having or ridiculing safe spaces.

My friend Kara posted on Facebook an observation that she had fallen asleep watching the show a few times, even though she loved it. I had the same experience and so did a few of her friends. The word “soothing” kept coming up. The pace, the music, the genre, the setting are all oddly relaxing. The nostalgia factor is probably a big reason, everything about this show takes a certain kind of person back to their happy misanthropic childhood. But I think there’s something else.


I have a similar experience listening to the podcast Welcome to Nightvale. It’s a weird experimental narrative show about a small desert town where all conspiracies are real. There are a lot of thematic similarities between Nightvale and Stranger Things and I imagine there are many people who are fans of both.

Both shows are referential to the dark side of pop-culture, owe a pretty big debt to Stephen King and the authors who inspired him (like H.P. Lovecraft), and fear original, but familiar music. Fans of Nightvale often talk about how relaxing the show is to listen to. I concur as I’ve fallen asleep listening to it many times.

I wonder if there’s something else that makes all these things, King and Stranger Things  and Welcome to Nightfall, so pleasing, so soothing? Is there something in the dark that calls to some of us? Are we touched by the weird? Are we ourselves “strange and unusual?”




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