Me and Stephen King

July 15th, 2010

no-moneyStephen King and I have something in common.  Neither of us writes for money.

Of course we have different reasons for not writing for money.  Stephen King doesn’t write for money because he doesn’t need any.  He’s already made approximately 23% of all the money in the world. I don’t write for money because I don’t earn any.

It’s a funny thing.  If I earned a little money from writing, I’d probably be writing to make more.  I’d be writing for money.  But I’m what’s sometimes called a “cult favorite,” meaning that I get great reviews and have crap sales.  So I take the advances, when I can get them, and then don’t think about money again.

And when I don’t have an advance, I write anyway, and I write the book I want to write.  The lack of concern for financial gain frees both Stephen and me up.  If Stephen, 37 years (!) and God knows how many best-sellers after Carrie, decides he wants to write a 1,088-page whopper about a small Maine town trapped beneath a force-field shaped like one of those glass domes they put over your food in pretentious restaurants, what’s to stop him?  It’s the book he wants to write.  He doesn’t have to sit down and knock out Children of the Corn 12, because he doesn’t care about the money.

I’m writing three books right now.  None of them has a publisher.  They may never have a publisher.  But I’ll write all three of them anyway, and then maybe I’ll put them up on Amazon for the Kindle and sell 312 copies and sit back and bask in the adulation of my fans.

The question, of course, is why write?  Why write if you’re like Stephen, to whom more money is just added weight?  Why write if you’re like me, and money seems to avoid the sections of the shelves on which your books sit?

I think he and I write for the same two reasons.  First, because we can’t not write.  It’s what we do.  And second, because we both want to get better.  I think both Stephen King (whom I’ve never met) and I write to get better.   I think, really, that’s why most writers write.  They know the only way to get better is to write.

Stephen King, over the course of a long and wildly successful career, has gotten a hell of a lot better.   And me?  Well, I’m not the one to judge, but I know that I’ll now attempt things I never in my wildest dreams would have dared twenty years ago.  That satisfies something inside me that really wants to be satisfied.

Don’t misunderstand me, though.  I mean, if someone forced a lot of money on me . . .

10 Responses to “Me and Stephen King”

  1. eclixpe Says:

    Test

  2. Phil Hanson Says:

    If I had money to force, Tim, you’d be one of the immediate beneficiaries. Humble but highly talented writers such as yourself earn–and deserve–all the support they can get.

    The obligation readers owe to writers goes beyond the price of a book. Writers often put their best thoughts in print. Just as often, those very thoughts become the seeds of someone else’s new ideas.

    You write because you enjoy writing, and that’s all good. Personally, I hate to write; I struggle for every word, and it soon becomes too much like real work. I’d rather be driving truck.

    I write precisely because I enjoy having written; I enjoy blogging, I enjoy writing very short-short stories (800 words or fewer), and I enjoy posting comments to your blog, among others. Money is not a motive. (And for damned sure, no one in his right mind is gonna pay me to write this crap.)

    But I just don’t think I have it in me to write a full-length novel, not even a short one.

    However, there is a novel inside me that’s struggling to get out; it’s been struggling for more than 15 years. I expect it to struggle for another fifteen, but who knows? I’m not of an age where I should be predicting that far ahead.

    Looking on the cheery side, if I make as much progress on it over the next 15 years as I made during the previous fifteen, I’ll be ready to start Chapter 3.

    Regarding Stephen King, have you read his The Dark Tower series? Best rompin’ adventure since Lord of the Rings.

  3. Suzanna Says:

    Tim,

    I really admire you for your determination to continue doing what you love doing and what you are so good at despite all the nonsense that goes
    along with authorship in the midst of today’s crazy, fast and furious world of competing media sources.

    I’m thrilled and inspired by the fact that you remain committed to your amazing talent to tell a story.

    No matter what form your creativity takes now and in the future I will always look forward to what you have to say, just as I always have.

    Quite possibly your number one fan,

    Suzanna

  4. Beth Says:

    Tim, you have written about your characters having a life of their own, that they compel you to tell their stories. Would you want to be inhabited, or even a neighbor, of Jack from THE SHINING? Where inside of himself does Stephen King have to go to bring his characters to life?

    King writes about places that aren’t real, I hope, and invites people in to share the scare. Poke, Rose, and Simeon are real people; readers can recognize themselves in your characters, if not fully, at least in part. There is no question that King is talented; there is no question that you are talented as well but differently so.

    King’s books sell because they allow readers to confront fear without actually having to be in fear. Vicarious danger appeals to many people, ergo, the volume of sales he enjoys. But I think people eventually
    grow out of that stage. They’ve had to deal with enough fearful situations in their lives to want to move on to something that strikes a different chord.

    Mid-list writers are in need of their own publicity machine and it has to be driven by their fans. Publishing houses aren’t willing to put their money into anything but a sure thing, but the definition they use to determine what that is seems to be very short-sighted. Just as fast as this vampire craze appeared, it will disappear. Fads have a very short life. Fans of writers like you and your blog mates on Murder Is Everywhere need to make noise, to bring attention to your books. Word of mouth is powerful.

    Libraries are magical places. The economy has led to cuts in services everywhere. Budgets are slashed so librarians have a more difficult time making decisions about books to purchase. Much weight is given to circulation figures. My library, like most in the country, belongs to a network. When a book I want is sent from one library to mine, the book is checked out from its home library and it is checked out again from mine when I pick it up. That’s two points in favor of that book in the circulation statistics. Authors can be helped by library patrons.

    Because I am obsessively concerned about running out of something to read, every week I check out more books than I can possibly get to. I return what is due and then a few weeks later I check it out again. That’s more points for the book.

    Putting a hold on a book helps, too, because the libraries can see easily what books are generating a lot of interest.

    Three weeks ago I started a blog so I could post reviews of authors who are undervalued, getting the names of the authors I respect and enjoy out somewhere on the web where maybe it will be found and a new fan created. If we want to keep reading Tim, we need to keep talking about Tim and the other authors we don’t want to lose.

    Tim, if you want to bump into Stephen King go to Fenway Park. King is an avid Red Sox fan and is at most home games.

    Beth
    http://www.murderbytype.wordpress.com

  5. Rachel Brady Says:

    Nice of you to put it all out there, Tim. I have no plans to quit my day job, which I like as much as writing–only for different reasons. When I talk to other writers, I often find I’m alone here. Isn’t the Mac Daddy dream to write full time?

    Nah. Not for me. Writing was fun before I was published. It’s still fun. Life is good.

    If I depended on it to pay the bills, that would take some shine off the apple.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everyone and thanks for taking advantage of the newly resuscitated Comments feature (yay, Chris Lang!) and responding to Me and Stephen. People like you really make my life a lot better.

    Phil, if you ever do have money to force, I’ll even come up there to get it. In the meantime, I’ll just have to write for pleasure (it’s not always fun — there are times when it’s grim as hell, but then someone will come through, some character shouldering the load and taking me elsewhere and, if I’m lucky, making me laugh. I hope you do write your book, but you know? Some people live full and delightful lives without doing anything of the kind. No, I’ve never read THE DARK TOWER, even though I’ve got two volumes somewhere. In the future, perhaps.

    Suzanna, you knock me out. That’s the sweetest note I ever got, even on Valentine’s Day, even in elementary school, when I got more than my share of steamy (by 5th-grade standards) valentines. I just with there were a million readers like you, people I know will read me the way I want to be read. Great quote from David Sedaris: “Writing gives you the illusion of control, and then you realize it’s just an illusion, that people are going to bring their own stuff into it.” One really hopes, especially when working with delicate material (QUEEN OF PATPONG, for example) that you’ve made it difficult for readers to bring certain kinds of stuff into it. But once it’s out, it belongs to the reader.

    Beth, thanks for the kind comparison with King — I’m more than happy to be considered with him in any sentence that doesn’t make me look like a dwarf, No living writer has turned out so much material that hit so many people so hard. He’s as much an alchemist as he is a writer: he can blend his talent and our fears and hopes, and come up with something that millions and millions of people love. We who are firmly (and apparently permanently) placed in the midlist can only wonder what it must be like to know that small continents were stripped of trees to print your new one, but I doubt very much that he enjoys the act of writing, or of reading the bits where I actually got it right, any more than I do. In the end, we have a lot in common: we both sit down and make something that simply didn’t exist before; and it’s a great privilege, even if there are beasts and monsters in it. (I continually get praised for writing “ferocious” villains.)

    Rachel, thank you for writing, and I think it’s terrific that you love your day job. If I were given a month’s head start I probably wouldn’t be able to follow what you do in any random ten minutes at work. But I’ll tell you and anyone who’s listening that your next book, DEAD LIFT, is absolutely tremendous. Make a note, everybody. I want to hear those pencils scratching.

  7. Jean Henry Mead Says:

    Someday you’ll be outselling Stephen King, Tim. Everyone I know who’s read your books say you’re one of their favorite novelists. I guess it just takes time to build a readership.

    I’d love to hire your web designing team. What a great job they’ve done,
    and your video really hits a home run!

  8. Dana King Says:

    Look on the bright side. Assuming your original thesis is correct, and neither you or Stephen King writes for money, then you’re much more successful at it.

    😉

  9. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Jean — Just posted about your wonderful book on Maverick Writers — great stuff. And let’s hope you have the power to predict the future, because it would be interesting not to write for money (for a while, anyway) because I have too much already.

    Dana — You’re absolutely right, and you made me laugh out loud. I’m winning in a walk. Stephen hasn’t got a chance.

  10. Larissa Says:

    ….long time no comment from this side of things…I wish that I could say that I don’t do some of the things that I do for money…but it’s not true. When I sit down to refill the jewelry table it’s because I know that some well dressed woman is going to come by and go “oh my gosh, I just love those earrings. They would look great with that new purse I just bought..” and while I sort of have to vomit, I take her money. Not that I make my living doing that but still…I’m glad that you don’t write for the money. It’s usually painfully obvious when people do what they do only because it pays them in cold hard cash.

    So-well done and keep enjoying what you do. You’re a step ahead of most people out there. (c:

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