Why I Can’t Get Down With Stephen King

My mother was a consumer of books. She read poetry, books in Spanish, mystery and horror. It seems as though she read whatever she could get her hands on. I remember browsing the shelves on weekends, looking for something to read. I ran across her Stephen King collection.

“What’s this one about?” I held up “The Stand” and showed it to her as she sat on the couch.

“Ugh,” She rolled her eyes, “Big build up, leads to nothing. Try this one.”

She gave me “Carrie”.

I read it in a day, “What else you got?”

Mom scanned the shelves, “Ah, try Sidney Sheldon. I like him.”

I read “Master of the Game”. It almost gave me a heart attack. People smuggling diamonds out of mines by slicing their calves open and hiding them inside. It was really good.

“More?”

Mom ran her finger along the shelf. She passed the Stephen King books, “Nikki Giovanni.”

“Ma, that’s…uh…sure.”

She read the look on my face, “Okay, try ‘On Wings of Eagles’. Ken Follett is pretty good writer.”

I wondered why she kept passing the Stephen King books. There was a book about a dragon with a green cover. As I remember, there were quite a few books. I figured something was wrong with those books, “This guy?”

“Carlos Castaneda?” She laughed, “Took a bunch of peyote, went out to the desert. Nope. Not for you.”

I rode my bike to my aunt’s house, “Deb, do you have something I can read?”

My aunt was a flight attendant. When she was in town, it was rare. She pointed me to her study. I walked in and picked up “Kindred” by Octavia Butler.

She tilted her head to the side, “Not sure if you’re ready for that. Try this.”

” ‘Interview with a Vampire’?” I asked.

“She gets wordy, but it’s good.” My aunt smiled, “Finish that, you get this.”

(A good point to insert here is that my aunt is my dad’s sister. Not related to my mom but they were both readers on different sides of the spectrum.)

I consumed some of my aunt’s books. Some of them went over my head. I fell in love with Lestat, I learned Spanish from my mom’s books, I learned about ‘Hollywood Babylon’ and hedonism, adventure and mystery until I approached the Stephen King books.

“Mom, why don’t you say these books?” I pointed.

“Ride your bike to the library. Get something else. I don’t think he’s for you.” She seemed a touch angry, “You’ll understand soon enough.”

I rode with my sister and read books about suicidal fans and rockstars, “Perhaps I’ll Dream of Darkness”. I stumbled into the series books, I can’t even remember. V.C. Andrews was hot stuff. I read most of her stuff. (I needed to stop, there was too much incesty sex happening in there).

My cousin read comic books. I jumped in with both feet. I read my dad’s comic books-“All’s Fair in Love and War”, “Sgt Fury”, “Batman” and a lot of Captain America. Until I was exhausted. I burrowed my way back to Stephen King.

Mom rolled her eyes, “You’ll see.”

She saw me carrying a book upstairs-“Different Seasons” maybe.

Either way, I’m cruising and reading at a decent pace until I came across a word. Then, I saw it several times after that. I finished the book, confused. I took it back downstairs to my mom raising her eyebrow, “You see, yet?”

I held up a finger, “Ah…one more.”

I grabbed a different book. I read a lot of Stephen King until I was sure I saw what she saw. I knew what she knew.

My mother was born in the deep south. She was used to segregation. Hell, she was two when the whole “Little Rock” integration incident happened. The kids going to the high school.

She had an outhouse in her backyard . Her mom moved her and her sister and brothers up to Cleveland when my mom started high school. It was a culture shock. I remember she said it was the first time she saw snow and it was interesting but it freaked her out because the cold was something she never knew.

I digress.

Mom’s looking at me, “You see?”

“Mom, why does he use that word a lot?” I flopped on the couch and watched her do some type of chore.

“I don’t know. That’s one of the reasons I stopped reading his stuff. You get tired of stuff like that. Over and over.” Mom kept doing her work.

My sister ran downstairs with “Eyes of the Dragon”. She was super excited and loved the book. She yammered with my mother and I faded back into the background.

“I’ll give you one more chance, Steve.”

I picked up “Skeleton Crew”, “Four Past Midnight” and some Richard Bachman books. I read…no consumed them…on the bus, at ballet, in my room…wherever there was light, I was reading and I kept running across the same thing, over and over.

Nigger.

“Why does he have to use that word in like most of his books? Why do all the black people in the books look like some type of caricature? I mean, my dad doesn’t look that. My uncles don’t look like that. And all his black people are either really dumb or some type of savior.”

Mom nodded her head, “Now, you get it.”

A lot of people say to me that since I’m a horror writer, I should read some Stephen King. I say that I have but he’s not my jam. Oh, well why not? I can’t go into all my reasons. I just reiterate, “He’s not my jam.”

“But you write horror.” They say.

“There’s other really great horror writers from the 50’s I like. Bradbury, Matheson, Beaumont.” I shrug.

“B-but Stephen King?!”

I’m backed into a corner, “He uses the word ‘nigger’ too much in his books. It was his earlier works. And I’m not apologizing because I won’t read his newer more modern stuff. I feel like they’ve gone from ‘niggers’ to ‘magical negroes saving the day’.”

I actually had this conversation with a friend of mine. He’s a guitarist. An old head, cool guy I talk comic book shit with and he reads twice as much as anyone I know, “I can see where you get that.”

I don’t feel like I have to justify myself to anyone as to why I don’t read Stephen King but I’ll add this. Once, I watched an interview with him and they asked him about his gratuitous usage of ‘nigger’ in his books…his descriptions of black people. He responded with something like this is what he knew. He’s from Maine. Not a lot of us up there. And the ones that are usually fit the description in his books.

So, ol’ boy never went anywhere and saw an educated black man. Or a thin, intelligent black man. Or a young, talented black man playing guitar that was not a felon. Right.

I’m watching “The Shining” as I write this. And guess what, I’d never seen it (it seemed super long and just ugh…) right in the middle, two characters are discussing Scatman Cruthers coming to save everyone.

“Your son is trying to get help.”

“Really?”

“Yes. A nigger.”

“A nigger?”

“A nigger cook.”

“You don’t say?”

Dude, I don’t fucking say and this is why I can’t get down with this shit. It’s all not necessary. I’ve known good and bad white people. Hell, I went to a school where white people didn’t want us to go inside and we had to go into a different entrance. (Busing and the 70’s…what fun) . I’ve dealt with white people that were kind enough to help me if I was lost or give me a hand. I’ve dealt with black people that are horrible and I’ve had black friends that were awesome.

I guess, because I’m from a different generation, I really never understood why all this racist shit was necessary. A lot of other writers didn’t use the word and I can’t jam with someone who did for some bullshit reason.

Now you know. And that’s half the battle.

knowing is half the battle