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2003-11-20 5:06 PM
Limping and Coughing and Regal Nonetheless
In many ways, Stephen King's physical soujorn to the podium at last night's National Book Award ceremony echoed the journey his career took to bring him there. Still suffering the effects of his well publicized wrestling match with a truck alongside a Maine road a few years back, Stephen King limped his way to the front of the room. Still fighting off the effects a recent bout of pneumonia, his voice needed the amplification of the speaker system.
He accepted his honorary National Book Award. This is an award that he had previously joked about, saying that he'd have to buy a table at the awards to even be allowed into the same room with the critics and literary snobs that have for years have criticised his writing as nothing more than, "penny dreadfuls for the latter half of the twentieth century."
Mr. King graciously accepted his award, then spoke.
You'd think that most people, when finally allowed into an exclusive club, would be thankful to the establishment for judging him worthy of their attention.
You would, but I wouldn't.
Mr. King had a few things to say to those assembled.
He asked that this not be a "token" gesture to the popular writers of the world. The NBA is usually reserved for works of "High Literature." Literary fiction is a sub-genre of Fiction that, in all honesty, is probably the worst selling category of fiction in the publishing world. Last night's winner of the award in the Fiction category had sold approximately 3500 copies of her book. She took ten years to write the winning novel and she hadn't finished a work of fiction since the early 1980's.
I don't think I have to tell you Stephen King's numbers.
He told the assembled that he has no time for those who state as a matter of pride that they have never read John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Mary Higgins Clark or any other popular writer. He asked, "What do you think? You get social academic brownie points for deliberately staying out of touch with your own culture?"
You know, writer's have a hard enough job in this culture without having to live up to a bunch of effite intellectuals who have probably lifted nothing heavier than the cover of a book in the last fifteen years. I mean, c'mon, you don't take us seriously. It's not like writing is "a real job." If we are lucky enough to be able to stay at home and write, it's not like we're actually doing anything important while we're there. And if we don't get reviews that state we're the next best thing since Hemmingway, it's not like what we're doing is important, right?
You know, the world is a really fucked up place.
Ninety-nine percent of the discussion about how cool the Lord of The Rings movies are involves Peter Jackson, special effects, Frodo, Gandalf or one of the various actors. When's the last time anyone discussed Tolkien himself? You know, the man who imagined all of it to begin with? The one who through painstaking work, day in and day out, labored to create the code that would send the pictures in his head into your head?
Remember your last favorite movie? You can probably tell me who directed it, but can you tell me who wrote it?
Your monotony of your life is broken up by the dreams that we writers dream. Television. Movies. And for the two percent of you that buy more than one book a year, and that the one you happen to have recommended via Oprah, then sometimes it's through books.
But they all have writers. We who don't really do anything important.
And then, should one of us have the chutzpah to actually try to make a living at this craft, we're torn apart by the critics who think that if we're writing a book a year, they can't possibly be any good.
You know what it takes to write a book a year? One double-spaced page a day for the year. One. Page.
I write three to four pages an hour on average. Let's see . . . that's fifteen minutes of work a day. For one novel a year. A rate that's considered outlandishly prolific in today's market.
So, for those writers who write one novel every four or five years, I have only one real question: Where the hell are you spending your time?
The average science fiction novel brings in an advance of 5-10k. Very few earn out and pay the writer a single cent in royalties. I don't know about you, but I can't live on $5,000.00 a year.
It's very easy to fall into the trap of writing what you think will sell, but Stephen King never did that. He genuinely enjoyed scaring people and being scared himself. He loved monsters. He wrote about what he loved, and he did it in a manner that everyone could understand. If you've never studied the technique of King, I'd suggest you start. The man is a master of his craft. Every comma in every sentence of every paragraph has a purpose and that purpose is to tell a story. He's not out to change the world. He's not out to make a lot of money.
He just wants to tell you a story, and tell it well. You know, entertain you.
Dickins was considered a hack. He wrote "A Christmas Carol" in a day in order to make a quick buck.
Art isn't determined by the critics. It's determined by the people who read.
Stephen King will be remember a hundred years from now. The lady who won the award last night for her literary novel? The public won't remember her name next week.
Snobs need not apply.
Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of The Abyss.
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