I asked Joey for guest piece and this is the bullshit he came up with.
Raging like a Young Scorsese by Joseph Hirsch
I am mostly an autodidact, and the bulk of what learning I’ve done on the craft of writing has been done outside of the classroom. But I have nevertheless spent some time in post-secondary institutions, listening to professors tell me how to write, and each one of them down to a (wo)man, no matter how disparate their philosophies, agreed on one thing: Stephen King was trash. He was, at best, “okay.”
My personal feeling about Stephen King is that he is our age’s Charles Dickens. One can go back to the critical literature of the time and see the parallels. Dickens was the most popular writer of his era, had broad appeal with the masses, and was mocked by most of his more refined contemporaries. And just as one can read Dickens for the sociological details of his era, I’d hazard that if people are around in the middle of the 22nd century, and they want to know how we lived in the late 20th, they can get all of that from reading King’s work, and a fine story to boot.
After two impressive non-fiction works which displayed razor exegesis on horror (Danse Macabre), and the craft of writing (On Writing), it was impossible to pretend he hadn’t been better than they knew from the beginning.
The consensus among his fans is that King’s best work is the massive, aforementioned The Stand. The most current edition runs over twelve-hundred (!) pages and is an admitted albatross around the author’s neck. Imagine writing a novel, and then imagine writing another forty (!) or so over the course of the next thirty years, and never coming close (in the minds of your most devoted fans) to what you accomplished all those years ago, and you’ll see King’s quandary from his perspective.
I can’t remember where or how I first heard about the book (written under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman), but my interest level was raised a few degrees when I found out it had been “banned,” or more accurately, that it had been pulled from shelves by the author himself.
I downloaded (sorry, I was young) a copy from Morpheus, a torrent site which may or may not still be active (I purchase all of my books these days). The story, in brief, concerns a troubled young high-school student who is called into his principal’s office to discuss an incident wherein he cracked his chemistry professor over the head with a lead pipe and sent the man to the hospital.
The student, Charlie Decker, tells his principal to get fucked in so many words, and storms out of the school, having been expelled. He returns to the building a short time later and shoots his algebra teacher. From there, he proceeds to hold his classmates hostage, while conducting tense negotiations with the police, who’ve been drawn to the scene by a pulled fire alarm.
But in the era of the kind of heightened paranoia that would get a Ritalin-addled kid suspended for playing with a banana in a cafeteria, Rage was truly an incendiary work. The book, however, was not primarily about a massacre; the body count is incredibly low. Charlie Decker quickly lures his captive audience into a Stockholm trance, and all but the most popular (and despised) student in the classroom is ready to crown him Lord of the Flies when it all comes crashing down at the end (sorry about the partial spoiler, despite my previous promise). I would best describe it as The Breakfast Club, if Anthony Michael Hall had been armed and Judd Nelson had made one too many pithy quips at his expense.
Stephen King’s Rage is an ultimately trickier piece of work, with a trickier, or perhaps altogether lacking, answer to the question I’ve posed.
In Rage, when Charlie Decker blasts his teacher and holds the classroom hostage, he not only finds catharsis, he finds sympathy and camaraderie. The book is not necessarily a Nietzschean will to power, telling students to shoot their teachers in order to actualize themselves as supermen, but I see how it could be read that way in the fog of adolescence, by someone in the grips of puberty, adrenaline flowing from the last time the bully bashed him into the locker, neurons still tweaked by the wake-and-bake session with that British Columbian weed he and his buddies saved up money to buy, hormones thwarted into anguish, humiliated as his voice breaks and his skin grows clammy while contemplating asking out that beautiful girl with the chestnut bangs in homeroom…
The reader gets my drift. Here’s what King had to say on the subject:
As to the larger question I posed, I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves, but when I ask myself the question, when I put it in stark terms: Would I feel culpable if someone committed murder supposedly under the influence of my work, the only answer I can provide, as ambivalent and unsatisfying as King’s, is that I would have to wait until this hypothetical leapfrogged into the actual, and then and only then could I describe my feelings on the subject, and more importantly, whether or not I would be willing to pull my book from circulation. It might hurt my sales, but it would do wonders for the reputation of the book, especially among the demented (though by no means dangerous) teenagers like the one I used to be.
Silverthought and Orphan Elixir was serialized in The Western Online. More of his work can be found at Paragraph Line and 3 AM Magazine. He previously worked as a sports correspondent for Fight Hype covering boxing matches around the globe, and he was also a finalist in a Glimmer Train Short Story Award Competition for New Writers. He served four years in the U.S. Army, wherein his travels took him to Iraq and Germany. He currently lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and attends the University of Cincinnati.