Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Quisling King!

by Josh

The moment I first read this week's prompt, I knew immediately what my answer would be. And it's the same answer I would have given at 8 years-old. As pie in the sky as the idea is, I'd do anything (insert cloying Oliver! song here) to collaborate with Stephen freakin' King.

Here's why:

When I was but a callow lad living on the moors of Rhode Island, my parents felt the need to send me off to an overnight Jewish summer camp in rural Massachusetts called Avoda. To give you a sense of life there that summer, the word "avoda" is Hebrew for "work." All the campers were awoken by the sound of a bugle playing reveille over the loudspeakers. Bunks were graded on the cleanliness of their beds and latrines. And don't get me started on the all-campus event Desert War (which I've a feeling has a new name now, ahem).

Anyway, Friday night was the start of the Sabbath, and at Camp Avoda, we would welcome the Sabbath with a luxurious chicken dinner. At the drop of the sun, all campers gathered in the mess hall and feasted. Some feasted later than others – every meal was served by preselected campers – but by the end of the night, no one was hungry.

After dinner, the camp often showed one or two movies in the lodge. We’re talking 1984-1985, so they used a projector and everything. These days I’m sure they just hook up a DVD player to a widescreen TV. It’s not the same thing. Call me a luddite, but better technology doesn’t always lead to a better experience (he typed on his PC).

One Friday night my first year at Camp Avoda, Paul Davis took to the podium and, after leading us in a raucous Grace After Meals, began to tell us what that night’s motion picture would be. My bunk had remained raucous even after the Grace, though, so all I heard from Mr. Davis’ announcement was the word “Steven.” This was, as I said, 1984, and, as I said, I was 8, going on 9. The previous year, my father had taken me and my sister to see E.T. Even at that young age, I knew film directors, and I knew E.T. – which I had loved – was directed by Steven Spielberg. Surely this was the Steven that Paul Davis had mentioned. So I went to the lodge, eager to re-experience E.T.

I was the only 8 year-old who went.

None of my counselors stopped me – and none of the counselors in the lodge took exception to my presence – so I gathered my blanket, picked up some candy treats at the canteen, and picked my spot on the floor.

I think my candy treat was a bag of Twizzlers.

As I mentioned, no one else from my bunk was there. No one was there from Bunk Two or Bunk Three either, so I pretty much kept to myself…which was fine. Even back then I was a fairly independent breed of dork.

Then the movie started. A long tracking shot of a car winding up a Colorado mountain as ominous violins stirred from the speakers.

This was not E.T.

The violins were hypnotic, though, and so was the film. I quickly became caught up in the story. An unstable father was spending the winter as caretaker at an abandoned resort hotel. With him were his pale wife and odd son. The son reminded me of, well, me. I was a small child; he was a small child. I had brown hair; he had brown hair. I talked to my blankie; he talked to his finger. Close enough.

Never before in my life had I so fallen into a movie. I lost all sense of self. I completely forgot about the other campers, the lodge, the Twizzlers. For the next 150 mins, my whole world was that world, the world of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, based on the horror novel by Stephen King.

My memories of the rest of that night are vague.

I know I was visibly shaking. I know I couldn’t speak. I know I ended up back at my bunk…but I don’t recall the walk from the lodge, the walk through the woods, to get there. Perhaps it wasn’t even the same “me” who returned. Perhaps it wouldn’t ever be the same me again.

I imagine a rational person would've be so deeply scarred by this trauma that, in the future, he or she would have stayed as far away from Stephen King as possible. I mean, who would want to subject themselves to such an experience again?

Me, me!

And I did. When I returned from summer camp, slightly taller and with a deep hatred for bugles, I bought my very first book with my own allowance money. It was Stephen King's Night Shift (because the bookstore was out of The Shining). Over the next year, I proceeded to read through his entire body of work and over the next few decades, I've made sure to read every single novel and short story collection he's published.

On one level, it helps me connect with the wide-eyed callow tot I used to be, but on another level, and I say this with admitted bias, King is simply that good. I've blathered on here before about how much I appreciate his craft and his imagination, so here I'll limit myself...but it's difficult, because I could go on and on for days.

Honestly, though, I feel like I've already collaborated with him simply by reading his books and drawing from them the many lessons of plot construction and suspense development and character behavior which exist in rich abundance. Even though I've only met the man once, and briefly, he has always been the single best creative writing instructor I've ever had.

And so to collaborate with the man? To be able to spitball ideas with Stephen freakin' King? For a lunatic like me, what could possibly be better?


Rebecca Cantrell said...

Now _I_ want to collaborate with Steven King! What a great post about writers and why we write. Great job, Josh!

I read "The Shining" the summer I cleaned motel rooms in a lodge in the woods by myself. I quickly became the fastest maid they had ever had as I was too spooked to hang out in any of the rooms for a second longer than necessary. Since I was paid by the room, thanks Steven King for upping my productivity.

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

Josh, I am so with you on this one! King was my answer to What famous person living or dead would you like to have lunch with.
Really, who wouldn't? I mean other than the nun who asked the question.

Terry Stonecrop said...

I loved this story. It sounds like a love story of sorts. I guess when we really get into a book or movie, it is that.

And your returning home with a deep hatred of bugles:)

Joshua Corin said...

Thanks, Becky.

It sounds like you picked the ideal setting to read THE SHINING.

You should write him a thank you card.

Joshua Corin said...

Mary, I think I wouldn't mind having lunch with Stephen King whether he were living OR dead. To paraphrase from PET SEMATARY, sometimes dead is better.

Joshua Corin said...

Thanks, Terry. I guess it is a love story of sorts. I love it when writers get under my skin. Don't you? =)

Meredith Cole said...

When Stephen King was anointed Grand Master by MWA, I got to hear him speak. Such an interesting witty guy! I love his book On Writing, as well. But I'm glad I didn't see The Shining as a kid. I probably would never have slept again. Jaws was bad enough!

Shane Gericke said...

Overnight camp. Bugles. Stephen King. Talking to one's finger. What a great story, Josh! Thanks for sharing.

I hear you on bugles. Hated them so much at Boy Scout camp I created a ditty at age 13:

There's a bugler in the grass,
With a bugle up his ass,
Tried to blow reville,
For Troop 270.

Sung, naturally, to a bugle song ...

Shane Gericke said...

Rebecca, you cleaned motel rooms? Cool.

Gabi said...

We're leading weirdly parallel lives, Josh. I went to a similar camp called boot. We didn't have chicken on Friday night. It was some unknown meat product and Go Army cake with gray icing. What the heck makes icing gray? While there I went to the Saturday night movie (the only night movies were available) thinking sweet singing animals from the adorable Disney were on tap. It wasn't until the Gremlin exploded in the microwave that I started to look around to see if I'd fallen into a well.

Stephen King is a great choice if for no other reason than, like you, he writes a blue streak. You'd be able to hang with that.

Kelli Stanley said...

Wow! What a story, Josh. :) And I bet Twizzlers never tasted the same, either ... ;)