Stephen King & Jerry Jenkins: An Epic Conversation on Writing

If you're a writer, and do not already subscribe to Writer's Digest magazine, then articles such as the Stephen King & Jerry Jenkins interview in the May/June 2009 issue might just convince you to do so.

I received the magazine and was surprised to see the photos on the cover. It never would have occurred to me to put Jenkins anywhere near King. Not only are their writing styles different, the writing themes are different as well. You read one of Jenkins' "Left Behind" titles and you've read them all. King, on the other hand, delightfully surprises you each and every time.

I just got a Kindle-2 from amazon.com and went in search of available Kindle titles. One of them was "Ur," a short story King wrote exclusively for amazon. In it, a Kindle with a mind of its own is featured and takes the characters on the type of page turning ride King is so adept at delivering. The wit and humor and tension and just plain good old storytelling in this short story were awesome! I kept reading sections aloud to my husband and we both kept shaking our heads and saying "man, that Stephen King is something else!" :-)

Both authors had much to share that totally made this a "must read" article on writing. I can't quote everything they said but here are some of the words that caught my attention the most:

King's response to WD's question on readers suspending disbelief and immersing themselves in imagined worlds: "Making people believe the unbelievable is no trick; it's work. And I think Jerry would agree that belief and reader absorption come in the details: An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything...Of course, none of this means a lot without characters the reader cares about...but the details are always the starting place in speculative or fantasy fiction. They must be clear and textured. The writer must have a good imagination to begin with, but the imagination has to be muscular, which means it must be exercised in a disciplined way, day in and day out, by writing, failing, succeeding and revising."

King's response to WD's question on why the battle between good and evil fascinates readers: "When evil is vanquished in a book, most of us feel cathartic triumph...But writers must be fair and remember even bad guys (most of them, anyway) see themselves as good--they are the heroes of their own lives. Giving them a fair chance as characters can create some interesting shades of gray--and shades of gray are also a part of life."

Regarding the challenge of writing for what King calls "constant readers," an author's devoted fan base: "They just want a good story, and I think they come to crave your voice even more than the story itself. It's like having a visit with an old friend."

Jenkins also had some gems on writing he shared with us in the interview. One that I thought was specially insightful was his take on fiction and nonfiction: "Ironically, the definitions of nonfiction and fiction have flip-flopped these days. Nonfiction has to be unbelievable, and fiction has to be believable. So, to my mind, the task (and I agree with Stephen that it's not trick) of getting readers to buy your premise and temporarily suspend disbelief is to yourself believe your premise with all your heart.

Another good quote from Jenkins was this one, "As to why people like to escape into other worlds, that has to do with this world. People are longing for something beyond themselves and their current circumstances. They want either hope or escape--or both."

Stephen King wrote what I consider to be one of the best books on writing and he talks about it in the interview, "For me, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft felt like both a summing-up and an articulation of things I'd been doing almost entirely by instinct."

Even though I own a good number of books on writing, King's title is a favorite of mine. In King's book you not only learn about writing from someone who knows the art and craft of writing but you also get to know King as a person.

Prior to me reading On Writing, I had pigeonholed King as a writer of horror fiction. He may be that but he's so much more. In the same way that he comes across in his book On Writing, self-effacing and transparent, he also comes across in the Writer's Digest interview. I mean, don't you just love it when the author Writer's Digest calls, "arguably the best-known writer of our time," ends the interview by saying, "Last but not least--we're all amateurs at this job, really. It's always new. For me (to quote Foreigner), it always feels like the first time."

Kudos to Writer's Digest for capturing yet another set of King's words for us. Kudos to them for also bringing two unlikely authors together in one cohesive interview that allows us to, in WD's words, "look closer. A conversation with the two yields both parallels and polarity--and candid insights as well as mutual respect."

I've looked to see where this Writer's Digest interview of King & Jenkins is available online, for a price, but have not found it. Let me know if you find it online or, if you get Writer's Digest, and have read the interview, come on back and share your thoughts with me.