Most folks would've turned to God. I found Stephen King. He landed in my lap, really. My older brother's friend let me borrow his copy of Night Shift. The cover reminded me of something out of the Twilight Zone. Hands with eyes on the fingers? What the hell is that shit? Up until that point, The Lord of the Rings was my game, and everything I wrote was a knock-off.
I didn't know it quite then, but Stephen King was teaching me that it's OK to be scared. That bad shit happens, but you can still go on.
Our relationship developed gradually. My mom bought me The Dead Zone for Christmas that year, and then I found Different Seasons and Christine at the bookstore. I devoured these. Falling in love with the characters, captivated by the prose. I became an addict. Since my older brother was more interested in sports, girls, and parties (like most teenage boys), I recruited my younger brother to go on my quest. We scoured used bookstores, buying every rare, limited edition we could get our hands on. Movie tie-ins, foreign prints. You name it. I even read the British version of The Shining just because I thought it looked cool. My younger brother kindly informed me that nothing I did was cool. He was right. Girls don't notice boys who read. They laugh at them. Something I learned from Arnie Cunningham.
The book that sealed our relationship was Pet Sematary. It's still my favorite. When Gage Creed died, I can't tell you how hard I cried (even harder than when we lost Wolf in The Talisman). I can still remember. I was alone in my room, lying on my bed. Hoping my mom didn't hear me. I didn't want her to know much it hurt me when her little girl died. She had Mommy things to worry about. I could toughen up. I had Stephen King. Besides, when Gage came back, he was different. He was fucked. And then it hit me. You can never change the past. You can only live.
My Stephen King collection is vast. I have every hardcover and multiple copies of all his paperbacks. I have a sealed copy of My Pretty Pony - a massive red tome given as a gift by the store manager at the local Waldenbooks. I have near mint original paperback copies of The Running Man and The Long Walk (I even have an Italian print of this one!). I have copies of Stephen King's original screenplay adaptations of The Stand and Pet Sematary smuggled by a friend of mine out of Laurel Entertainment in the mid-'80's. I have all the print copies of Stephen King's official newsletter, Castle Rock. T-shirts, posters, bookmarks. The list is endless.
After I read Pet Sematary (autocorrect hates this fucking word), I wrote Stephen King a letter and asked about The Dark Tower, included in the novel's list of his works. In this era before the Internet, I had no contact information, so I sent my letter off to his publisher, Doubleday. It took 9 months to get his response! He explained how to contact Don Grant and order my copy. I have the whole limited edition series, of course. I followed with an inquiry to his PO Box in Maine about a sold-out luncheon he planned to attend in Phoenix where I lived at the time. He replied in two weeks with a Three Stooges postcard, telling me I should try to get in as a waiter. Perfect.
We corresponded for a couple more years until the Mets beat the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. He sent me a form letter, explaining how if he spent all his time answering letters, he wouldn't have time to write his books. He'd become a brand name. Of course, I understood. Typed separately on the form letter was some personal advice he gave me. I'll keep those words to myself.
Someone once asked me why I'm such a big Elvis Presley fan. I told her that every time I hear his voice it feels like someone is telling me, "I love you." Every time I read Stephen King, it's like having someone hold my hand in the dark.