Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Answer to Life, Relationships, and Everything

I've always thought about writing a letter to Stephen King. I never have, though. Just imagine the flood of mail that must wing his way. I'm guessing the letters probably fall into two general categories: people who wish to assert their place as his Number One Fan (visions of Misery), and those who hope to gain some sort of advantage by contacting him -- "Dear Mr. King, Would you read my story and offer some suggestions on how to make it even gooder?"

My letter would be neither one of those. He and I have a few things in common and it would simply be nice to chat about that.

I could start by telling him that I do a little writing myself. But then, that would be too much like writing to Picasso to tell him how much fun I had with the paint-by-number set I got for my birthday.

Maybe it would be better to talk about the writing itself, and how much I appreciate some of the skillful things he does. For instance, I just finished reading The Eyes of the Dragon to my teenage daughter. (Isn't that cool? She still enjoys listening to her Daddy read.) In the middle of our session one night, I stopped and talked with my her about how King handled the scene I was reading. In it, a jail guard delivers a note to the home of a judge. Some writers would simply describe the guard handing over the note and that would be that. In the hands of King, however, this simple act turns into a subplot of its own, with plenty of conflict and tension. The scene is told from the point of view of the judge's butler, who is torn whether to even answer the late-night pounding on the door. Then he thinks the hunched figure of the jail guard might be a troll and is afraid to let him in. There is much doubt as to whether the judge will ever see the note, which, of course, builds the reader's desire to see the delivery completed.

Skillful stuff. Then again, saying so would start to make it sound like a fan letter. Better to steer clear of that.

I could talk about car rides. As it happens, I can roll out of my driveway, stay within a respectable shouting distance of the speed limit, and pull up in front of Stephen's house in about three hours. We're close enough that we see all the same snow storms. I've actually made that drive a few times. He has a funky wrought-iron fence around his property with all these bats worked into the design. I don't drive to Bangor to see his fence, though; I have family members who live there. I doubt Stephen would be interested in knowing that.

I would really like to tell him about my favorite parts of his books. Whenever I receive a crisp new King hardcover, which typically happens each year at Christmas (Thanks honey!), I invariably turn first to the notes that King writes to his readers. Often these are in the form of "An Introductory Note," which discusses what was going on in his life as he worked on this book, perhaps a bit about the inspiration that led to this work or some of the particular challenges he faced. Occasionally one of his works appears with no such note. Desperation is an example, so I had to be satisfied with reading the brief Acknowledgements. In Four Past Midnight, though, he outdid himself by providing notes about the book as a whole, plus a separate introductory note for each of the four novellas in the book. Yum.

Which brings me to the point of this post. Stephen King's books are not about him. They are about ... well, you know what gremlins and ghoulies live within. In the same way, this blog is not about me. It's about you, Faithful Reader, and all your wonderful, wacky, traumatic, rewarding and infuriating relationships. Still, I enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes view and finding out about King the person, so I thought you might forgive me for indulging in the occasional bit of editorializing and navel gazing.

It looks like fun, you see, when I read so many wonderful personal posts on all of your blogs. I thought about starting another site for doing just that but I can barely do justice to one forum, let alone two. My compromise is to indulge myself today and write a bit about To Love, Honor and Dismay.

I have been working for some time to publish books. More accurately, I have been banging my head against the gates of the publishing industry. These gates open only occasionally for first-time authors these days, due to some challenging changes to the book market. In the old days, numerous medium-sized publishers could afford to develop new talent. Many of these companies have now been swallowed up into mega-publishing houses, which in turn are actually smallish wings of even larger corporate conglomerates. Publishers are under more pressure than ever to turn steady profits, at the same time CDs, DVDs and video games are taking the place that books used to play in many people's lives. The bottom line is the gates don't open as often as they used to. Still, those of us who fancy a bit of scribbling lumber on undeterred.

So one day I was watching Good Morning America and saw a fellow talking about using a blog to trade a big red paperclip for a house. Right then I said to myself, "Self, (because that's what I call myself when no one's around) you should start a blog." I already have a house but it still seemed like a good idea. Here are a few things that have happened since then:
  • I was used to spending months and years working on a manuscript, and then waiting many more months to receive feedback from literary agents. The experience of publishing a blog is startlingly different. I write (almost) every morning, edit and polish right away (which is a skill worth honing all by itself), publish immediately, and then converse with readers later that same day. The pace is exhilarating and, at times, almost overwhelming.
  • I try to post every day, but my day job gets in the way once in a while. I am a university professor so, of course, maintaining the blog became more challenging when September hit. My current biggest challenge is to find enough time to return the favor and visit other people's blogs. I'll keep trying. (And why do so many people seem surprised when I show up at their site?)
  • I am grateful for all the comments and emails I have received. The format seems to strike a chord with many of you and the feedback has been wonderful, which is very satisfying. Even the inevitable bit of criticism is helpful to keep me on my toes.
  • To date, 133 other folks have extended me the ultimate online compliment by linking their site to this one. That's more than one a day since I began. As a result, Technorati ranks To Love, Honor and Dismay in the top 20,000 blogs. I'm not sure how much that really matters, but it seems like a nifty thing to be able to say.
  • A magazine editor emailed me right out of the blue earlier this week. She has been reading this site for a while and as a result she extended me an invitation to contribute to the magazine. Talk about a feel-great moment for me. More on this later when the details are firmed up -- the magazine has an online edition so you'll be able to see the results.
  • I put up a new banner at the top of the page a while back, replacing the standard Blogger design with a picture that seems more applicable to the sorts of topics we discuss here. Not one you left a comment, though, mentioning you noticed the change. So, what do you think? (Not that I'm needy or anything...)
And while we're on the topic of personal information, here is a bit of my own philosophy for all you relationship insight junkies out there.

A corporate executive once delivered a speech to a few thousand of his customers at a user's conference. I'll always remember the first slide he put up on the big screen, because it epitomizes my own view of how we should approach life. He said:

It's all about the people, stupid!

Of course it is. Spend plenty of time and energy looking after the people around you and you'll be well on your way to a fulfilling life.

Be nice to each other. See you tomorrow.


  1. I love the picture on your 'header'!

    Thanks for putting the whole 'blog writing' into perspective. I never thought about the lessons learned in this venue.

    I really enjoy reading your posts, not only entertaining but also and more importantly...insightful.

  2. (And why do so many people seem surprised when I show up at their site?)
    Because it is kinda like Stephen King actually looking at the cover of your manuscript. You don't know what he thought of it, but he looked and maybe even autographed it.

  3. I like the new header picture, and enjoy reading your blog.

    Have you read Stephen King's 'On Writing'? You sound like an avid fan, so I'm guessing you have.

  4. kpjara: Thank you.

    Kamrin: Hmmm... I'm guessing (hoping) you'd be even more surprised if Stephen King showed up at your site :o) Thanks.

    eek: Thank you. Yes, 'On Writing' was a natural for me.

  5. Dear Andrew, Now that you are on your way with a foot in the door of the literary world, I'd say keep on keeping on. We of the religious persuasion like to think of it like this--- when you desire something in your life, work hard and keep heading in that direction until God shuts the door. If it was a true calling, He will pave the way ahead for you. It looks like you are on the right road and the time is finally right.

  6. To tell you the truth, I don't like the banner. Sorry. It's too large and the text looks weird and grainy. Regardless, a rule of thumb is that your banner should also be a link reloading the main page. Banner notwithstanding, your blog is excellent, I always enjoy reading, it's helpful to many people. I hope the magazine thing works out.

  7. Anonymous3:34 PM

    1. I felt odd having you call me Faithful Reader. I'm not sure I liked it. I'll have to get back to you on that one. I'm pretty sure I didn't like it though.

    2. I've got a couple letters to Stephen King stashed in my journals.

    3. I wondered what we had in common. Now I know.

    4. I usually read through so I didn't see your new picture, but I came over today to see it. I like it!!

  8. Andrew, great post...i think by having a blog you become a published writer with fans that interact with you instantly!! it is a great feeling.
    my favorite thing you said on this post was:"For instance, I just finished reading The Eyes of the Dragon to my teenage daughter. (Isn't that cool? She still enjoys listening to her Daddy read.)" i love this part...says a lot about you as a parent.
    i like the new picture. you can add me to your fan list!

  9. Congratulations on being noticed by a magazine. Best of luck. You deserve a magazine column. You devote so much time and care to your readers and their questions. I think you understand that it's all about the people.

  10. I just discovered your site and I am your newest fan. Glad to hear you a magazine contacted you, you must be very proud.


  11. It's good to hear you write just as 'you' sometimes, rather than always as the advice man (though of course I love to read your advice, too, or I wouldn't be one of the 133 people...or is it more already?!)

    My brother-in-law, a writer, told me that after hearing about blogging, he now tells his writing classes to blog. He tells them 'if you want to be a writer, you have to WRITE!'. Blogging *is* such good practice, and what's more it's interactive and social too.

    Good luck with your books....I'm sure you're on the verge of publishing success!

  12. I Like Your New banner! I think it looks very nice....and I always enjoy your blog..and I am happy when you visit mine....and congratulations on the good news!!!! I think its great that you still read to your daughter!