I know there are some snobby über-literary types out there who scoff when they’re told that one of the best—if not the best—writer about writing is Stephen King. I know, because I probably used to be one of them. Sure, back in the day I might have granted that his memoir ON WRITING is really useful and brilliant when it comes to learning the craft of writing. But what about the art of it? What can a super-commercial novelist like that teach me about my creative demons?
Dumb question. It’s Stephen King—he knows all demons, and maybe the ones he knows best are the creative ones. I discovered this to full, life-altering effect when I read his book—my favorite of King’s—LISEY’S STORY.
Lisey is the wife of deceased, acclaimed writer Scott Landon. As the novel opens, she’s finally, after two years of grief, trying to set about organizing his papers. But of course someone else wants those papers, too—someone who happens to be a violent, deranged psychopath. And what begins as a hunt for closure soon becomes much more—especially when Lisey, to escape and get the answers she seeks, goes to the terrifying world of Boo’ya Moon, an otherworldly dreamscape only the most deeply imaginative people can travel to. It’s this magical, dangerous world that her husband Scott used to visit for his creative inspiration, his nourishment—his art.
Many people love LISEY’S STORY for the love story—the perfect, heartbreaking portrait of the marriage between Scott and Lisey, which covers some twenty years and terrain both otherworldly and tenderly mundane. I love it for that, too.
But what made it a transformative experience for me was Boo’ya Moon. The madness that lurks there along with the beauty, the great, mesmerizing story pool we can all dip into, and which can daze a careless viewer into drug-like oblivion—it is the perfect metaphor for the addictive, dangerous magic of storytelling. Going on that trip with Lisey into the darkness of the imagination reminded me in a way little else could how simultaneously powerful, scary, and dazzling it really is.
But the more philosophical reasons aside, the book is still a thrill. This is Stephen King we’re talking about, after all. When it comes to creative demons, his are possibly the best, and in LISEY’S STORY they’re on their most vivid, startling display.
Daniel Loedel is an associate editor at Scribner.
“When it comes to creative demons, [King’s] are possibly the best, and in LISEY’S STORY they’re on their most vivid, startling display.”