An extract from Stephen King’s journal

6.26.1999, 10.15pm

 

As I write this I am lying in a hospital bed with a collapsed lung, a leg broken in at least nine places, a split knee, a broken right hip, four broken ribs, and a spine chipped in eight places after being involved in a car accident that should have killed me. I’ve been pretty high the last few days on painkillers, pretty out of it, a flashback to a time where Stevie wasn’t quite the good boy you see before you today. But oh God, I remember that time as a lot more fun than these last few days have been. Not that I’m allowed to say that, or even think that, which is why, Constant Reader, this epistle will be between you and I.

Habits are hard to break, and not just the illegal ones that inevitably end with the sad eyes of your loved ones welling up as they tell you We’re doing this for your own good, Stevie. I broke free of those habits long enough ago to be able to tell my son not to smoke in the house and not feel too much like a hypocritical bastard. No, this habit is far more commendable in the eyes of just about everyone, and is a lot less likely to kill me, and yet the withdrawal symptons I’m suffering are as bad as any I had on any mind-altering substance. Yes, Constant Reader, I speak of writing. Read four hours a day and write four hours a day is the advice I give out to any aspiring writer who asks, and believe me, I get asked a whole lot. Its not empty advice either; I practice as I preach. Not that it’s much of a chore, reading and writing is what I do best. I don’t think, this side of the drugs and the alcohol anyway, that God gave us any finer pleasure than sitting back with a book as the late afternoon sun slides its light across the floor. At the moment, I’d be happy just to sit up, but with injuries such as mine its easier to lie back. Of course, I could be lying back in a coffin, so I’m not overly upset about my position at this point… come back and ask me when the drugs they’ve given me have worn off.

Sure, the reading is doable. Too doable, in truth. I’ve read almost every book my beautiful wife has brought me. Even with the visits, and there have been a fair amount of visits – not just family and friends, complete strangers drop by to feign concern when really all they want to do is have a look at that famous author, you know, the one who writes all those scary books. Didn’t he once write about a crazy car?He got hit by one, nearly killed him. Funny how these things come full circle, eh? And the thing is, I could stop them. Ask the nurse to close the door to my room to leave me alone to read, or even to sleep, but I don’t. She smiles at me and leaves the door open so the world and his dog can get a look-see. And even then I have too much time to kill.

 

6.27.1999, 10.05pm

You see, there’s the problem. I’m used to writing for four hours each day, sometimes more. Now I have two problems, one less important than the other, but I’ll start with that one. It’s the lying down that gets ya. Those mornings when its cold out and the covers have created a cocoon of warmth and if you could only have another hour in bed… well, that’s not what it’s like. A week and a day of lying here and I’ve had enough of it, thank you very much. Yes, its boring, and the idea of walking down the corridor to get a plastic cup of cheap coffee is as exciting as any drug-fuelled trip I could have gone on (in fact, I could even go so far as to say that the thought is actively arousing), but that’s not the problem. The problem lies, if you’ll excuse the pun, with the logistics. Try writing for any period of time whilst lying on your back. That last extract was what, roughly 500 words? Not a problem, ordinarily I’d get that done in half an hour, an hour max. It took me just under three hours last night, and it’s so exhausting that I had to stop. I can’t write. But that’s not what concerns me the most. What concerns me is the fact that I can’t write. This time I don’t mean that it’s literally to difficult to raise my Waterman fountain pen to the paper, and I’m not taking any notice of that Yale professor who referred to my work as ‘penny dreadfuls’ and said that only an idiot would think otherwise, although perhaps there are those of the opinion that I should take the hint…

It’s gone. Whatever it was I had that allowed me to sit down and write fantastical tales: it’s high-tailed it outta here. The accident took my breath away, and apparently snapped whatever electrical conduit it was in my brain that fizzled and popped and made stories happen at the same time. The nurse leaves my door open and lets the public in because she thinks I don’t want to be alone with my thoughts. The truth is, I don’t want to be alone without my thoughts.

 

 

6.29.1999, 10.45pm

I took last night off from writing and lay alone in the dark, staring at the ceiling, waiting for

For what? For inspiration? It doesn’t work that way, Stevie.

someone to come and tell me to stop being such a cliché. The formerly prolific writer lies awake at night, staring at the ceiling, waiting for some revelation to come and end the writer’s block. It’s an embarrassing stereotype. Have I become an embarrassing stereotype?

It’s just struck me who I remind myself of, stuck here on this bed. Granted, it’s unlikely that I’ll be in danger of being menaced by a starving stray dog or a long-limbed psychopath, and the circumstances of my being here are in general a bit different, but when it’s late at night and I’m drifting in and out of nightmares, I feel a little like I imagine Jessie Burlingame might have done. Only I don’t know anymore. Before Bryan Smith sent his Dodge van careening wildly into my life, I knew exactly how Jess would have felt, I knew how all my characters felt and thought and lived. But now I have no idea. I feel set adrift, without a purpose. People ask what scares me, and I give them some trite answer, never the truth, because the truth is far from sensational. I’m not scared of witches or vampires or the boogeyman, and I’m not scared of the vagina-with-teeth, as so many people like to imply. Other people are scared of the gooshy stuff, which is why my books bring in the big bucks. No, the thing I’m scared of is far, far worse than any monster I’ve ever dreamt up. I’m scared of this, this being without ideas in a world where I use ideas to put bread on my table and no alcohol in my cupboards. This is by far the scariest horror I have ever written… which is why it remains for my eyes only. I write because it keeps my thoughts in order, and if I have no stories to tell, then I shall just tell my own.

 

6.30.1999, 11.30pm

I finished reading the last of the books Tab brought in for me today. Watership Down, left until the end to read because it’s one of my favorites. One part made me smile in a way it didn’t before – a small smile, born more of what one might call Understanding than of Humour – “The car appeared, flashing green and white, and raced down towards Bigwig. For an instant it filled the whole world with noise and fear”[1]. Such a basic description, so simple, and yet it summed up the uncomprehending panic I experienced for the micro-second before I flew into the air like a broken Superman.

Maybe I could write a book about rabbits. I don’t think I’ve done that yet.

 

7.1.1999, 10.45pm

Tabby’s worrying, I see the concern hiding behind her eyes every time she looks at me. It’s not right at the forefront; we’re still close enough to the accident for relief to still be playing a major role, and just beyond that a wifely annoyance that I continued to walk along Route 7 despite her pleas to the contrary. But it’s there, lurking at the back like a sharp knife in murky dish water, ready to cut and slash if I’m unwary. And it does hurt, this visible worry. I’ve caused enough anxiety to this paragon of a woman during the years of our marriage without adding more. I wish I could reach out and reassure her, but I can’t. I can’t bring myself to tell her that the stories are gone and that’s why I’m not the same Steve that left the house that morning. I don’t even want to say it aloud. It hasn’t been this hard to write strories since I went sober, back in ‘88. How can I tell my Ideal Reader that there won’t be any more stories? And its not as though I’m not trying. I’ve been running What Ifs through my head constantly. What if when the Dodge hit me it sent me into a parallel universe where I’m not a writer? … maybe that’s what happened, maybe that’s why the stories aren’t there. What if I never was a writer, what if when I got thrown into the air I came down smack on my head and formulated a whole past for myself that never even happened? What if I’m Steveo King, good for nothing bum? Fuck, what if I am? What if I’m not even Stephen King? What if some other guy is Stephen King and I’m…. Hell, what if I’m Bryan Smith! Torn up with the guilt of killing the popular horror writer Stephen King by mowing him down with my van, my brain flipped a switch!

I had to take a minute to cool down there. There’s nothing like a life threatening car crash to get the melodrama flowing.

 

7.2.1999, 7.15am

I had some fuckin crazy dreams last night. I didn’t wanna wait til tonight to write them down in case the horror wore off and I forgot. With dreams you have to turn and grab em by the tail while they’ve still got their teeth in you or they flip a fin and disappear back in to the murky depths of your subconscious to resurface later and disrupt another night. Even now it’s struggling to be held, so I better be quick. Something about moonlight, and … bones, and chains… and, nope, it’s gone. Probably should have held back on the explanation and just written it straight down. Even when this is just for my eyes I write for the Ideal Reader. Habits are hard to break.

 

9.30pm

I wish I hadn’t already tried the whole pseudonym business already. Maybe that would shake the writers block. Old Dicky Bachman didn’t really die, he’s just stepped out of the shower. Would that swing? I think not. I might as well go back on the drugs and booze, I always got my best ideas when outta my tree. Maybe all the ideas I had while stoned or drunk or both have finally run out, as though I stored them all in a box in my head.. Maybe if I fell back into my old ways my inspiration would come back … I shouldn’t even joke about it. Everyone thinks I’m better, no looking back, but as any recovered alcoholic or junkie will tell ya, its not that easy. It never really goes away.

I wonder if I’d be any good at writing romance novels. How would the critics take that, I wonder? They’d be critical, I guess, it’s what they do best, especially regarding me. And I think I should stick to what I do best, which is not romance novels, but at the moment doesn’t seem to be anything other than lying here feeling useless and fed up.

 

 

7.3.1999, 8.10am

I could feel the dreams circling last night as I lay on the edge of sleep. ‘Dreams’ is a bit of a misnomer; they fall easily into the category of nightmares. Part of me welcomed them, as I spent all day yesterday trying my darndest to remember, but a far larger part recoiled in fear. And even though I’m writing this morning rather than this evening, I’m not really worried that they’ll have disappeared by tonight. No, I think these will be sticking around for a while. It’s my own fault I expect, for writing before that I feel like Jessie Burlingame. I dreamt I was handcuffed to a bed in a dark room, and in the corner there was a man. At least now I can no longer complain that I don’t know how Jessie would have felt. I know now all too well, I felt her fear all too vividly. In fact, I would give anything to go back to blissful ignorance. Jessie Burlingame had a tough time, and I actually feel bad for putting her through it. I don’t know why I feel bad; it’s not as though she’s the only character that I’ve written into a horror, and its likely I put other characters through just as much, if not more, but the guilt is there nonetheless.

‘I don’t think you’re anyone’ I told the figure of shadows, speaking the words I’d given Jessie six or seven years ago. I continued, inevitably, ‘I think you’re only made of moonlight’, knowing full well he wasn’t, that in front of me stood Raymond Andrew Joubert, and knowing also that I wasn’t as uninteresting to him as Jessie had been, as Jessie had the dubious advantage of being a woman at the hands of a psychopath who was only interested in killing men… I pulled desperately at the cuffs around my wrists, and to my surprise they came free. I went to jump off the bed and get the hell outta there, but I couldn’t move my legs. Now I’m awake and thinking about it rationally, that makes sense, as it isn’t my arms that are imprisoned as I lay on this bed, it’s my legs. But the dream tried to make sense of this new information in a way that only dreams can, and simply shifted to another place without a word of explanation. Now I found myself in a chair with my legs pinioned, looking up into the face of Paul Edgecomb. Paul Edgecomb, I thought dully. This isn’t your average common or garden chair then. I looked out at the audience, at the people who had come to see me die, and did not recognise a single face. I suppose if one were to be very analytical, that might allude to the fact that I’m hated by people I’ve never met, just because they don’t like my work, but at the time it just made me feel terribly alone. Just as with Jessie, I had a sudden surge of guilt and regret at what I put John Coffey through, until I looked up and saw Percy Wetmore grinning at me. Wait, that’s not right, I thought. Percy was insane by the time Coffey got the chair. In fact, the only execution he was out front for was the horrific execution of Eduard Delacroix… realisation didn’t filter through. It was just there, behind my eyes. No quick death for me. I was going to burn alive, just as I had written that Eduard Delacroix would. Just as the black mask went over my head I awoke, gasping, drenched with sweat, and secure in the knowledge that it will be worse next time.

Why couldn’t I have written romance novels.

 

 

7.4.1999, 5.05am

it got worse, it came back, and got worse, and i was there with raymond andrew joubert, he grinned and threw his case full of jewelry and bones at me, and they fell around me like a rainstorm in hell i thought, its going too fast, its too fast, we’ll get to the execution too fast, and then we got there, and they put the mask on me and i died, and i lay by a railway track waiting to be found before i woke up. How many times have I had this dream? it seems so familiar.

i’ve written books about it, haven’t i? did i write the books because of the dreams? or did i write the dreams because of the books?

I’m being stupid, i wrote it, I made it all up to scare other people, and now it’s scaring me. What if they come true? i wrote that Chris died, and then the guy who played him in the movie of the book died before his time. Was that my fault? I wrote that he died, and he died, was that me?

 

10pm

Yeah, I’m pretty glad no one’s gonna read this. There’s no way I’m opening the door on it, it’s gonna stay in the bottom drawer of my desk and once I’m writing again properly, it’s never going to see the light of day. So what if I’m having nightmares? I went through a fairly horrific experience, it’s expected, in fact the doctors warned me that it might happen.

But shouldn’t I be having nightmares about the accident? Not about books I’ve written, and isn’t it just a bit crazy to be putting myself in the place of characters I invented?

 

7.5.1999, 10.15pm

Had the dream again last night. I don’t know what it all means. The crazy (crazier) thing is, once I had taken the place of Ray Bower, knocked clean out of his Keds, I started dreaming. About aliens, of all things.

 

7.6.1999, 9.45pm

And again. I’m afraid to fall asleep. Every night it goes a little bit further, and I’m in no hurry to find out what happens next. Last night the dream within a dream was a bit more detailed. Four boys, aliens, some kid with learning disabilities or something. I’d like these dreams to stop.

 

7.7.1999, 8.20pm

I asked a nurse if she could find me some reading material today. She bustled off and came back a while later with a selection, the ones they keep in a box behind the nurses’ station, the ones that people leave behind. Several slushy romance novels, probably the sort Annie Wilkes would appreciate, and a Stephen King novel. Christine, to be precise. And in a morose state of self-pity, I actually started reading it to remind myself of a time when the stories blew into me and came out as I moved my fingers, and do you know what I realised? This accident didn’t take my ideas and my inspiration. Oh no, it appears that I lost them a while back and I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to realise. I actually wrote in an earlier entry in this very journal ‘Didn’t he once write about a crazy car?’ No, not once! Twice! How many novels about crazy cars does the world need? I had to have my own altercation with a crazy car to actually work it out. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why couldn’t they intervene, why couldn’t they confront me and dump all the unoriginal pages I’d written on the rug? What, you can go through the trash and retrieve old beer cans, cigarette butts and various drug paraphernalia but you can’t say Stevie, how bout you trying writing about something you haven’t already covered? Stop with the cars! Have you considered writing about rabbits or something, anything but the old possessed/demonic automobile?

I actually plagiarised myself! Who needs Dean Koontz to copy me when I can do it myself? Just flipping through Christine made me realise that I’m just doing the same thing over and over, nothing new. Hell, I was so out of ideas before I wound up in hospital that I’m half way through a book about writing! A book about writing! If you listen carefully, you can hear the depressing sound of a barrel being scraped.

And, you know what? Now I’ve lain here and thought hard about it – and believe me, when you have this much time on your hands, it’s pretty damn easy to think hard, maybe too hard – I think I know why I did it. I’m sticking with what’s safe, with what I know works. The yarn about the demonic car worked pretty well first time round, why not again? Somewhere along the way I stopped writing about what I want to write about and started writing what I think people want to read.

So, while I’m still in this self-indulgent analytical self-therapy session, I might as well ask myself – What do I want to write about? Hell, I want to write about me. I’ve spent so long writing other people’s stories; it’s about time I got a turn. I expect that was the real motive behind On Writing, and the reason I happily put in a cameo appearance in my movies. But it’s not enough. On Writing isn’t a story, it’s just the truth. My life lies in fiction, not truth. I want to create a world and put me in it, not playing a tiny role just so that people can wow their friends with their movie trivia knowledge see that fellow there, yes that one, the one that looks like nobody special, he’s the guy who wrote the book of the movie. I don’t want to be a footnote, a throwaway line, a bit part, I want to be immortal! Oh yes, I’ll admit that having my name on the front of millions of books is an immortality in itself, but what’s in a name? Stephen King, Richard Bachman, I think I’ve proved that a name says nothing about the person you are. I want to be remembered, not as a name but as a man. What does the name Tolkien conjure up? Hobbits, wizards, orcs, elves, very rarely the quiet pipe smoking English fellow that I am told Tolkien was. I want to be Frodo, I want to be Gandalf, I want to be Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger –

Woah, there’s an idea, Stevie.

 

7.8.1999, 9.25pm

I didn’t dream last night, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt so relieved. Ok, maybe when the doctors told me I would be able to walk again, but it’s pretty damn close. I’ve decided I’m going to write myself into The Dark Tower. It’s my epic, my masterpiece, and I’m going to immortalise myself in it. I expect some people will be scornful, but you know, I’m not sure I care. I’m not going to do it yet though, if I did I think I would be too excited about writing myself and I’d write the wrong book. The Dark Tower deserves more than being ruined just to sate a whim.

 

7.9.1999, 9.40pm

I dreamt again last night, but it was different. All the bits before the dream within-the-dream were fast forwarded, as though the dream Stephen as Ray Bower is having is the most important thing, and I think I understand. Maybe the reason I write is to keep my imagination satiated, and if I don’t write, it goes into overdrive. When I decided I was going to write about myself my brain was swirling with ideas for the story, but then when I decided to put myself in The Dark Tower and write about it at a later date I went to sleep without the ideas knocking around. If I don’t have ideas then my brain comes up with them for me, I realise that now. So I’m going to try and write this story, about the aliens and the four kids, and I know exactly what I’m going to call it. Dreamcatcher. Whaddya know, the wind blows and the story comes.

 

 

 

 

[1] Adams, R Watership Down p.59

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