The darkness was alive, pressing in around my table at Meilori's.
These shadows knew my secrets:
when Kathryn, my fiancée, died in the surgery that removed both the tumor ... and her life;
when I was all alone as a frightened six year old abandoned on Skid Row in Detroit;
when my mother died holding my hand.
These shadows knew what abandonment, fear, and loss felt like. I tapped into them as I wrote.
On my laptop screen were the paragraphs that detailed how Sam McCord cheated death by dragon
and sowed the seeds for the great 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.
Funny. No matter how hard we humans try to be smart, we end up only out-smarting ourselves.
I jumped in my chair in what felt like a whole foot as Stephen King sat down opposite me at the table.
"Shit!" we both exclaimed ... but for different reasons.
King shivered. "I hope you're writing a horror novel because this is sure the place to get in the mood!"
He pointed at the table to far left of us. "Is that Hemingway? The man is stabbing himself in the left arm and then writing in his journal."
"Ghost. It is his ghost, and he always said there was nothing to writing -- you just opened up a vein and bled the words on the page."
King shook his head. "You know I only come here for the 'free' whiskey. What will it cost me tonight?"
"A few tips for my friends on how to write well. One tip, two fingers of whiskey."
King shook his head. "After my walk to your table, I'll need at least five shots to make it back out of here half-way sane."
Alice Wentworth, the Victorian ghoul, flowed like mist to the table with five shot glasses held steady on a silver tray.
As she gracefully placed them in front of him, he raised an eyebrow that could pierce steel. "You trust me, Miss?"
Alice smiled demurely, but still showing him her pointed teeth. "I, too, like fingers, Mr. King ... finger sandwiches."
He cleared his throat and tugged at his collar. "Ah, yeah. Well, the first tip is this:
"Description -- it begins in the writer's imagination, but it should end in the reader's. Give the reader just enough to give the wheels of his imagination a push."
Looking after the departing Alice who moved like a specter through the shadows, King downed the first drink in one gulp.
"The second tip," I asked softly.
King traced his forefinger along the edge of the second shot glass.
"Quality -- the best stories always end up being about the people rather than the events in which they find themselves -- in essence, the best stories are character-driven."
King slowed a bit, taking two gulps to finish his second shot.
"Style -- the road to Hell is paved with adverbs. A thing is what it is. Pumping it up with prose steroids only makes it seem less natural not more."
King blinked his eyes. "Whoa! That girl served me the good stuff. My head is spinning. I better get on with the remaining tips while my tongue is still working.
"Meaning -- a story is like a house. Words are the lumber. With sufficient, quality lumber you build a sturdy paragraph. With carefully laid paragraphs, you create a chapter. Enough of those gives you a house or a story to be proud of."
Despite his earlier words, King took a sip from his third drink. The fine whiskey was beginning to hit him, and he began to wax eloquent.
Writing isn't about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends.
In the end, it's about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.
It's about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
King stared at his empty glass as if not remembering drinking it. He pointed an unsteady forefinger at me.
"Getting ideas --
Let's get one thing clear right now, shall we, Roland?
There is no Idea Dump, no Story Central, no Island of the Buried Bestsellers."
He sipped his fourth drink and continued,
"Good story ideas, old chum, seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky:
two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun.
Your job isn't to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”
He pushed away the fifth drink.
"I think I best decline to stay vertical and avoid horizonal. But I'll give you the fifth tip any way."
"Sir, you've already given me ...."
King shook a forefinger at me. "A friend has to keep his word to a friend ... makes him different than a politician.
Hard Work --"
King smiled fatherly at me.
“There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your laptop.
No, siree. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy.
You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in.
You have to do all the grunt labor,
in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you.
Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair.
He may not be much to look at, that muse-guy, and he may not be much of a conversationalist,
but he’s got inspiration.
It’s right that you should do all the work and burn all the mid-night oil,
because the guy with the cigar and the little wings has got a bag of magic.
There’s stuff in there that can change your life."
King smiled benignly. Believe me, I know.”
Samuel McCord walked up to my table, looked down at King sleeping happily on his forearms,
and raised his own eyebrow under his Stetson.
"The ghost of Mark Twain has been a bad influence on you, son."