Monday, January 16, 2012

Does Stephen King Have Nightmares?

There is a point to that question, I promise, and I’m getting there.

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for a while know that I have a secret identity as a writer of erotica. (This still makes me APML - a new acronym I’ve just invented that stands for Absolutely Piss Myself Laughing.)


Book 2 got published a few days ago. I like it a lot more than Book 1, so that’s something, right? The thing is though, when Book 1 came out, I didn’t really know about Goodreads. Now I know, and with Book 2 I’m doing that thing that you should never do — obsessively watching the comments by people who are currently reading it.

This might be weird, but you know what else I find a bit weird? Stopping reading a book in the middle and then going online and talking about it. Maybe that’s just me, but once I’m reading, I’ve committed to it. Although it does give you an interesting insight into what people think.

Some background: Apart from being the story where I proudly retain the Aussie spelling of the word “arse”, Book 2 is kind of suspensy/espionagey. Well, as espionagey as I could make it after doing research by watching Spooks. Long story short, some pretty awful things happen to one of the characters along the way, the wouldn’t-wish-it-on-my-worst-enemy kind of things, there’s a twist I’m quite proud of, and it’s all resolved happily in the end. Because that’s what a story is, right? Conflict —> resolution.

What surprised me was the emotional investment evident in some of the comments on Goodreads. I mean, some readers were really worried about this character. One of them had to take a break between chapters because it was “so intense.”

My first instinct: For serious, you guys, it’s not real. It’s all made up. Never happened.

My second instinct: I am an evil puppet master, sadistically manipulating your emotions. Dance for me! DANCE!


Which brings me back to my question: Does Stephen King have nightmares? Or is there a weird author/reader divide? Despite creating the whole situation, are authors strangely immune from its effects? Are authors immune because we created these characters and this world from scratch? Do we know it doesn’t really matter if we kill our darlings, because we’ve got another hundred clambering for attention in our heads?

Or am I just a sociopath?


  1. Well I've no doubt you're a sociopath, because you won't tell me your pen name. Gotta be something wrong with that. :P

    How fun to read what people are saying, though, and find out you're totally freaking them out. I think it is different when you're the writer. You know where all the bodies are buried, so the mystery isn't really there for you anymore. But for someone else just discovering it, everything is new and suspenseful.

    Good job you!!! And congrats on book number two.

  2. Congratulations on your second book!

    And yeah, someone recently told me they were worried about a character I'd written, and I was like, really? I mean, I love the guy, but when you're rewriting a scene for the 20th time, it can feel at times like he's just paper-mache and verbs. So it's wonderful to hear he reached someone in a personal way.

    And to answer your question:

    People want to know if I have nightmares. Of course not. I give them to you.
    - Stephen King

  3. Congrats on your book!

    I am deeply moved by my characters. they do not give me nightmares, but similar to what King says, I give my characters nightmares!

  4. Thanks, LG! It is a very weird feeling to read what other people think -- and if they don't know you, it's no holding back. Which is great!

    @ MC: paper mache and verbs -- I might have to steal that! That's a great way of putting it. I think we spend so long dissecting our characters, so to speak, that we forget how it might be to look at them with fresh eyes.

  5. @ Rebecca, thanks! I think I'm still moved by my characters as well, from a distance. Oh yeah, I thought as I was writing a flashback to happier times, that's heartbreaking. Yay!

    So maybe a sadist instead of a sociopath. Is that better or worse? :)

  6. The disconnect & ability to change on a fly where the story is headed kills off the blind attachment/investments the reader gets to enjoy - I think. Just a theory though.

  7. Jen, I love your posts. You often make me APML!
    I think about this a lot because I think being a writer creates distance. Firstly, for your own books. You just can't ever experience your own book the way a reader can. You'll never be as invested b/c you pulled the strings. You know you killed off a beloved character, not because it was fair but because it balanced the book. I think about how JK Rowling said she cried when Dumbledore died. I'm sure she was upset that his story ended but I thought - hey, you did it! You pushed old duffer over the edge!
    Worse, I think, is that being a writer makes it harder for you to suspend disbelief whenever you read anything. You don't have that blissful ignorance you had when you were just a reader. I find myself sometimes editing while I'm reading, or saying, "hmm, this word would have been better." Even when I love what I'm reading it happens. I just re-read the Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix and found myself stopping to say "Really good how he connected these two themes!" I don't WANT to do that. I want to be completely immersed. But I find that harder and harder.
    Congrats on your book!

  8. Thanks, Magpie!

    I think you've hit the nail on the head here. Sometimes I want my blissful ignorance back, but most of the time I love being the evil puppet master...


  9. GoodReads is awesome!!

    I agree about that 'blissful ignorance', though I've been a writer for so long I'm not really sure I ever had much of it to begin Then again, I look back at my OWN old writing sometimes and cringe. So...maybe I did.

  10. APML is my new favorite acronym. Thank you for always making me APML, Jen! :)

    I really agree with Magpie's comment about writers having a more difficult time getting into a story and suspending disbelief. I'm absolutely terrified to re-read the Harry Potter books for this exact reason: I'll be spending too much time trying to figure out how Rowling did something, or studying the POV options ("How would this be different if it were written in 1st person present?") that I'll miss the pure excitement of just being a reader.

  11. Found this today in an interview with Paolo Bacigalupi.

    I used to love reading, but since I’ve started writing, it’s harder for me to immerse, because I spend so much time looking at how the story is structured and trying to see what the author is doing behind the curtain.

  12. No problems, TL! Glad to help!

    I think that when we make the decision that we're going to be writers, we can't help reading differently. In one way it feels like losing the magic, and maybe we are, but only so we can learn all the tricks to amaze the audience when it's our turn.

    MC, you find the best quotes! That's exactly what I was trying to say, but Paolo Bacigalupi says it better. :)

  13. Very cool post! As a reader, I refuse to believe stuff is made up. If the book is good, I'm living it all with the characters and often caring more about them than I do about people I've met IRL.

    As a writer, I feel surprised if stuff I write affects readers on that visceral level. For a couple of reasons. 1) I know what a dork I am and sometimes assume readers can see right through the world I tried to create for them to the fact that the world's creator is...well, a huge dork. 2) I already know (in some cases) how things will turn out for my characters. So even if I put them through some rough stuff I know, as magpie said, that I'm pulling the strings.

    But more often I feel that characters control me. So they're the ones who plunge headlong into dangerous situations because they need to, because it's part of their journey. I'm the one who's like, "Guys, are you sure that's a good idea?" But if they need to do it, they need to do it, and it's my job to enable them rather than worrying about them.

    I do love feeling like a puppetmaster sometimes.

    1. Hi Jill! I totally agree, especially the part about the characters getting their own, that's totally sane, right? :)



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