Dear Uncle Stevie,
Though I’m specifically putting fingers to keyboard to thank you for the amazing toolkit for wordsmiths that is “On Writing,” I also wanted to give my gratitude for a lifetime filled with your words and worlds.
The first book I remember reading was The Hobbit. Not that Grover’s, “There’s a Monster at the End of This Book” isn’t a real book or anything, but The Hobbit lasted a lot longer than a sneeze, I could feel its weight in my hand, and it left plenty of cool stuff to imagine in the reader’s afterglow.
I was six. My mom had gone on and on about Tolkien’s masterpiece for as long as I could remember, using lots of words like magic, trolls, and dragon, then insisting I’d love it when I “got older.” She may as well have said, “Hey Seanie, you should really read the Hobbit right now if you want to understand all those snake in the grass jokes your older sisters are always laughing about.”
I found the book in the garage. My parents were busy in the house, my mom experimenting with new ways to flavor grease, my dad warming his hands in his pants in front of a ball game of some sort. I’d gone treasure hunting in the garage and happened upon two separate prizes at the same time: a hatchet minus its sheath, leaning against the rotting wall, and an old paperback copy of The Hobbit, wearing a sweater of filth.
Since I was a normal kid, I picked up the hatchet, smiled at its weight, then walked to the peach tree in the middle of our yard. I shucked my young shoulder into the swing, feeling blade lick bark for a second before slicing straight through skin, lodging itself surprisingly deep into the trunk. A neat line of blood sap drooled from a wound which is still there to this day.
“Cool,” I thought, then dislodged the hatchet and leaned it against the garage wall. Pretending I was He-Man was fun, but whatever lay between the covers of that book was a whisper quickly turning to scream.
I tore through The Hobbit, understanding maybe half. I was used to this level of comprehension, it was a lot like listening to my parents argue. I read the book several times until I finally set it down shortly after my eighth birthday, leaving it untouched until two decades later when I first heard the director of Heavenly Creatures was adapting the Lord of the Rings. Though my father gave me the audio version of The Hobbit as a birthday gift that year, it had nothing to do with my decision.
My seventh year walking I discovered your work and became a different sort of reader. You, Uncle Stevie, are my first and longest running favorite writer.
My mom was an avid reader before I was born. Perhaps it was the constant wiping of my ass which stripped her of the energy to tear through pages by the thousands as she once had, but since there was still a part of her that either saw herself as the reader she once was or imagined a return to the good old days, she still bought the books to fit the image. Though few of them were read, I believe in the early days, she never missed a single one of yours. She had started with Carrie and just kept right on going. It was a consistent relationship; you published, she read, until somewhere around the late 80’s, I think around The Tommyknockers.
But back then, she read them all, and answered every question my sister and I ever thought to ask.
I was around seven, laying on the floor in my sleeping bag beside my sister. Our parents sat above us on the couch, our father flipping through the channels. Channel surfing was still new and therefore fun for the whole family. My father paused on a macabre scene of a woman, swimming in blood, being chased down a stairwell by another woman, obviously older. “Why is that lady chasing her?” I said, more curious than frightened. I could feel my sister’s discomfort. “Probably because she forgot to clean her room,” my dad said. He is sometimes funny, though not always the ha-ha kind. My mom suggested he change the channel, which he did immediately. “You’re the one who likes Stephen King,” he said.
“Is that Carrie?” I asked. My mom said yes. I have no idea how I knew.
I did know this – Stephen King books were scary and exciting. And after seeing about seven seconds of Carrie, I also knew they probably had copious amounts of blood, which for all the swords and warfare, was something The Hobbit was seriously lacking.
The first book that you wrote and I devoured was The Talisman. I read it in hardcover about a month after my mom did. I was eight years old.
To this day, I believe The Talisman is my mom’s favorite thing you’ve written. Back in ’85 there was a stretch where it was all she talked about. She mentioned words like werewolf, territories and twinners, usually in a whisper, then made the mistake of finishing off the book and abandoning it at the bottom of her nightstand.
I took it from her room, transported it to mine and altered the landscape of my mind and imagination forever. It took a couple more decades and a few major life changes to realize I was a writer, but a lot of the seeds were planted in between the pages of my first stack of your novels. Like The Hobbit, I rarely understood everything the first time through, but I never minded the return visits.
My parents had a small business, right around the corner from a Waldenbooks. Best babysitter I ever had, and a helluva lot better than your Beulah by the sound of it. I read everything I could, hours swallowing hours and days into weeks. That bookstore wasn’t only the best babysitter I ever had, it was also the best teacher. It’s where I read Twain and McMurtry, but it was also where I feasted on an endless supply of comic books and Blanche Knott’s “Truly Tasteless Joke Books.” I was eleven when I read Anne Rice’s “Exit to Eden,” which was a far more vivid lesson in sex than I’d ever get in school. My homework was often ignored, but by ’88, I’d read everything you’d written that Walden’s carried, with the exception of Danse Macabre, which I admit I’ve still not finished.
One day I’ll write a letter just about “On Writing,” so I can tell you how it helped me place pen to page for the first time, and perhaps about the email I wrote you back when I finished writing my first novel – 600 pages, totally out of the blue and about two weeks after finishing your treatise on the craft for the first time. The email bounced, but it’s okay. Some stuff’s better after you sit with it a while.
I’m as constant a reader as they come. Thanks for all the adventure and inspiration delivered in a steady drip over a lifetime. Of the million or so words I wrote last year, I owe an awful lot of ‘em at least in part to you.