â€œThen in the spring of that year, 1979, our son Owen, who was 18 months old, ran for the road while we were flying kites one day, and I heard one of those trucks coming, and I tackled him like a football player. I brought him down so, unlike Gage Creed in the book, he lived. But I thought to myself–and again, this is the impulse a lot of times with these things–Iâ€™m going to write the worst thing I can think of, and that way it wonâ€™t happen. So I sat down and wrote Pet Sematary and as bad as I imagined it was going to be, the book turned out worse. And I thought, Iâ€™m never going to publish this and nobody is going to want to read this, but they did. It just goes to show: you should never underestimate the taste of the reading public.â€
The sentence that jumped out at me was: Iâ€™m going to write the worst thing I can think of, and that way it wonâ€™t happenâ€¦
When I was a child, and even into my twenties, I used to conjure catastrophes, knowing that if I could come up with a thing, the potential would be taken out of it and that precise disaster, at least, would never come to pass. Because itâ€™s always the unexpected thing that comes up and slaps you upside the head.
So I would lie in bed at night and methodically construct one disaster after another: dead parent, disappeared cat, public speaking event gone wrong, the Man in the White Sedan (remember him? I never knew what a sedan was, but I knew the man driving it would steal me away.) For a while, my school was fixated on blasting caps, with posters and lectures, as if thousands of the things lay around for kids to play with: I used to imagine what I would do if my hand had no fingers.
The worst thing I could think of.
I never spent much time on the possibilities of nuclear holocaust, despite this being the time of bomb drills when the school pupils (all 110 of us) would file down to the basement and sit along the walls. Perhaps that catastrophe was too big to wrap my mind around, or perhaps I didnâ€™t need to bother, since everyone else (read: every adult) was constructing the horrors for me.
But I can understand that other Kingâ€™s impulse. Iâ€™ve even used it, though not to the extent he does. I incorporated a dream into A DARKER PLACE, because it seemed to contain the right frisson of emotion I needed to give the character. Later, I found that writing about it had deflated the immediacy of its horror in my mind, as if Iâ€™d transferred it to Rae Newborn. Thereâ€™s another dream I did the same thing to, somewhere (canâ€™t remember at the moment) and then one day when I was driving along the freeway, a small and utterly terrified cat dropped out from under a plumberâ€™s truck ahead of me; the picture in my mind haunted me for weeks.
So I wrote a story, to get rid of it. â€œCatâ€™s Pawâ€ (which you can find in a collection edited by Otto Penzler, MURDER AT THE FOUL LINE) has just that scene as the triggering event in the characterâ€™s life, a cat dropping out of a truck and haunting her until she figures out why.
And once Iâ€™d used it, the power was gone from the image in my mind, so thoroughly that some time later, I found myself wondering how Iâ€™d come to make up such a bizarre image.
This may be the impetus behind projects like the one sponsored by Maxine Hong Kingston, which encourages veterans to write their memoirs, but I have a feeling the defusing of traumatic memories works better if you use them in fiction, particularly in third person fiction. Not to deny the memories, but to shift the power in them elsewhere.
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Incidentally, there was a query posted recently that spoils quite a bit for those that havenâ€™t read the book in question, so Iâ€™m not going to add it to the Q&A. Anyone with such a detailed question is welcome to write me the old-fashioned way, with a stampâ€”the address is on the bottom of the web siteâ€™s home page.