(Six Scary Stories)
Six Scary Stories isn’t a Stephen King book at all, but the stories were selected by him and published by Cemetery Dance, which is a specialty horror press that releases a lot of special Stephen King books. There’s also an introduction by King, in which he explains how this book came to be. Basically, it was a contest: write a scary story, and Stephen King would pick the winner. If you write scary stories, why wouldn’t you try to get picked out by Stephen King? He says he was hesitant about doing it — fearing the necessity of sorting through a slush pile of crap, can’t really blame the man — but they actually winnowed it down for him; he just had the six best to sort through. The six in this book, in fact. He did pick one of them out as a winner (“Wild Swimming” by Elodie Harper, which I really recommend reading), but evidently, he felt all the stories were too good to just be done with. So this book happened.
I don’t have much to say about this book’s actual stories; other than that, I enjoyed all of them and would definitely loan or recommend it to someone looking to read short horror stories. But I did want to talk about Stephen King’s promotion of other writers.
Now, I have to say that I’m not really always here for Stephen King as a critic. He promotes adaptations of his own work like they’re great even when they’re objectively awful (what else is he going to do, I guess?); he tweets about some TV shows that really seem like crap (and others that are good) and I don’t even always love the authors he recommends (I really wish he’d leave JK Rowling alone, she doesn’t need his help). But I do like the fact that he’s always promoting someone that’s not himself or his kids. Yes, he plugs writers who really don’t need the help — though sometimes, I’m pretty sure that’s for the benefit of readers who might want the direction rather than the writers. Look at all the references in his books. I think it was one of the hosts of the Kingslingers podcast who said that all those references felt like a way of saying, “these are things I like; you might like them too,” and that feels true to me. But he also seems to be perfectly willing to plug relatively unknown people. Now I won’t default buy from an author because Stephen King recommended them, but I certainly will check them out. I would guess lots of his fans do. And some people probably do default buy from authors he plugs. I have to think that a plug from Stephen King is a significant boost to almost any kind of writer, whether or not they share a genre with him. For all he’s a “horror writer,” he has to be one of the best-known contemporary American authors we have. Most people have encountered his work in some form or are at least aware of it. “Like something out of a Stephen King book,” or some variation of that, is basically US default to describe something scary, even if it’s nothing like what Stephen King would actually write. So I have to think that if he notices you and mentions you online or collects and introduces your story, that’s a big deal.
And I just like that he does that. Another thing that’s very clear from his references, his plugs, and the way his characters experience reading in his stories is this: Stephen King is a big, colossal bookworm who loves reading and reads everything. I would typically qualify that statement with something like “as far as I can tell because, after all, I don’t know him personally.” Still, in this case, I feel justified just saying it, and I think he’s confirmed all that himself, anyway. I am also a big, colossal bookworm who loves reading and reads everything — or most things anyway (yes, it’s not just Stephen King, I have actually taken breaks from this project to read other books), and I recognize myself in the way he writes about reading. I think it’s neat that not only does his reading extend to far lesser known authors — I would expect that, that’s most authors — but he also takes time to acknowledge almost everyone he likes to read. He could just not do that. I think if he just sat there being “the King of Horror” and didn’t deign to interact with lesser mortals, people probably wouldn’t question that too much. I mean, they might not like it, but they wouldn’t see it as weird. But he’s not like that, even after all these years of publishing, bestselling, TV rights, movie rights, and whatever else. And I think that’s neat.