Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Transporting the Reader.

So I just finished reading HEARTS IN ATLANTIS by my hero, Stephen King. This guy has got to be the most misunderstood author ever. Both my mother in law and Grandmother shudder when they hear his name, though I'd bet a fortune neither have read so much as a paragraph of one of his novels. And the looks on the faces of some people when they're informed it was Stephen King who wrote THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION & STAND BY ME? Priceless.

They think he's just a horror author, good for gore and cheap thrills. They don't realize that not only does he write other things than horror, he is a master story-teller. He captures people's hopes, dreams, and fears and places them on the page for the reader. He builds worlds with such clarity that one can smell the air, spot the landmarks...and even draw a map. (Hey fellow SK fans...I'll meetcha in the Barrens in a few...we have a monster to kill.)  Okay, though I'm tempted to use IT as an example, I'm going to stick with HEARTS IN ATLANTIS.

The blurb on the back says it "...will take some readers to a place have never been...and others to a place they have never been able to leave completely."

Wow. I've never seen a blurb deliver exactly what it promises.

HEARTS IN ATLANTIS (the book, not the movie) was four stories and an epilogue in which the characters all intertwine in some way. And all were about the 60's and the effect it had on those people.

I wasn't born until '82 so it was definitely a whole new world to me. I love my historical novels for the same reason...but this was different. This was deeper, because though I'd never been in the 60's, I have friends who have, a lot of them Vietnam Veterans. They rarely ever speak of the war, especially to me...unless they are very drunk. To them, I'm still just a kid...and a girl at that. How could I ever understand? I was never there, of course I can't understand. I was never offended.

There are things people experience that many will never understand. I think of a crazy New Year's Eve when I was 13...the madness of that night is still too much to talk about except for a vivid memory of my mom shoving me into my room and screaming at me to barricade the door with my dresser. It was a huge dresser, I have no idea how I managed, but I did what she said...then I remember collapsing in tears and praying she'd be alive in the morning....and then nothing.

Anyway, after reading HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, I still don't really know what my drinking buddies have been through, but I think I may have a glimmer of understanding.

King didn't elaborate too much about the actual war, but more on the effects it had on people....still, since he was there in that era, I bet his drinking buddies were less reluctant to talk about it.  He didn't fight in 'Nam, but he'd wanted to. "Don't be an idiot, Stephen," his mother told him. "With your eyes, you'd be the first one to get shot. You can't write if you're dead." That was in ON WRITING and thank God for the wisdom of moms. But I now learned there was more to it than that.

Apparently back then, men in college had to keep a certain grade point average or else they'd get drafted. It was literally: STUDY OR DIE. My mind is still blown by that concept. I asked a few people if it was true and they just shrugged calmly. "Yup."

I think of the scene where the mother tells her son to work hard at his studies because boys who don't have been dying....and tears come to my eyes. Then King goes on to describe how the "peace sign" became the symbol of the war protests and so much more. To people of my generation it was just a cutesy retro design. But for a generation it actually MEANT something.

I'm not going to say anything good or bad about Vietnam or the protests or the government or anything like that....and for the record, I don't think Sai King really did either. He gave the reader an unbiased panorama of all sides. I wasn't there, I have no room to talk. But....while reading HEARTS IN ATLANTIS, I felt like I was for a minute.

And THAT'S the point of this post. I want to transport the reader to different worlds and perspectives. I want them to feel like they've REALLY been to the places I put on on a page. As writers we ALL should feel that way.

P.S. To the lazy-nicks out there: the movie only featured the 1st story...and they totally ruined it. But, Anthony Hopkins kicks ass and it's still worth watching. But to get what I'm talking about in this post, READ THE BOOK!


  1. Great point! I find myself frustrated with the editing process because I am no longer in the world of my story. When you are creating and reading it is so much more poignant than when you are searching out -ly words to destroy. I am terrified that after all this work people will read my book and be like, "what? Where was this? What kind of crazy fruit loops was she eating when she wrote that?" Steven King is definitely the man!

  2. LOL, I hear ya there. I have no idea how he keeps his stories so fresh even after the revision process. I think a lot of it is that he's not afraid to dig deep. Whether it's human emotions or the nostalgia of a setting, he dares to go there. So maybe we just need to grow a pair....metaphorically speaking. :)

  3. I adore Sai King, too. Dark Tower series will forever be my faves. But now Hearts In Atlantis is on my TBR list. For the record, I was born in the 60s but I was so young I really have no recollection of it. Having come of age in the 80s I'm more a child of that decade than any other. I talk to my dad about Vietnam and he avoided serving because he was an engineer working on military-related projects at his job. And my father-in-law was actually in the military at the time but avoided serving in Vietnam on a medical waiver for an ulcer of all things. Lucky him!

  4. King is a good author this is true. However for (IMHO) most of his books he lacks one key ingredient. That is an editor who tells him "I don't give a bleep who you are, or how much money you bring in, you don't need these 200 pages."

  5. We-ell in this one I feel he did. In a few others, yeah.