Does Stephen King ever feel guilty?

Mr. MercedesSo Mr. Mercedes from Stephen King came out today. I’m not that guy that buys every Stephen King novel the very day it’s published but, yes, I did purchase this one on its release date. Downloaded it to the Kindle so it can join the stack of many other waiting novels in the To Be Read pile.

Therefore I haven’t read any of Mr. Mercedes yet, but I did peek at a couple of the reviews. One thing I thought I noticed in one (and, sorry, I can’t seem to locate it now to link to it) is that part of the motivation King gives for the antagonist in his latest work (Mr. Mercedes himself) is his own work. That is, King’s own, earlier books, as if the world Mr. Mercedes occurs in is our world, where a guy named Stephen King has been writing a bunch of horror novels for years now. As I understand it – and apologies if this is wrong – Bill Hodges (revealed early on as Mr. Mercedes) has read King’s earlier horror novels (or, at least, seen the movies) and this is a contributing factor to Hodges deciding to mow down a group of unemployed job seekers at a job fair with his Mercedes.

This suggests a self-awareness from King, that perhaps he worries that his work may motivate some nut to do something awful some day. It reminds me of The Dark Half, when King seemed to be at his most self aware, having been “outed” as having the alter-ego Richard Bachman, the pseudonym behind which he wrote many horrific novels. In The Dark Half, Thad Beaumont’s alter ego is given literal life as a completely separate being, almost as if King wondered if his work had some sort of power that he didn’t understand, like he was warning himself to wield such power carefully.

It took me several false starts to realize that my latest work in progress is about brothers and sisters. In fact, early versions touched on this facet only superficially, but this latest revision has really honed in on this aspect as a major facet of the story. The main character is the oldest brother of three siblings, with two younger sisters. Yes, in real life I am the oldest of three, with two younger sisters myself.

Now, please don’t think this book is about me and my sisters, as it’s not. The middle sister is a binge drinking alcoholic, which my middle sister most definitely is not. The youngest sister, it’s revealed early in the plot, has died a tragic death several years ago. My youngest sister, thankfully, is alive and well.

I’ve been writing this book on and off for a while. The parts about what happened to the youngest sister affect the other two siblings greatly – they both feel responsible in different ways. In fact, this weekend, I was working on this project quite a bit when I received a really disturbing phone call. My youngest sister had a life-threatening medical issue and was being taken in for immediate, emergency surgery.

Obviously, I know that my writing about a completely different family that happens to have the same make-up as my immediate family didn’t cause my sister’s medical problems. Obviously, I know my writing doesn’t have that sort of supernatural power. I am not, after all, Stephen King. Or Richard Bachman. Or Thad Beaumont.

But, as I tried to get back to my work this weekend while I waited for news on my sister’s condition, I still felt guilty. Guilty that I was writing this story where the baby sister of the family dies, that I was using this sort of event as a catalyst for the arc of the other characters, even as my sister struggled to fight through a major medical problem in real life.

I love stories. The drama to them, the way they’re often drawn from real life. But the truth is, I don’t care how good the story idea is – I don’t want to have to experience an “arc” where I’m dealing with these types of things happening to my own sisters. I don’t want to sit in a dark room waiting for news, wondering if my sister’s going to pull through as I think about random things, like visiting her in college, walking her down the aisle when she got married, talking her through her options when she considered a change in careers, counseling her through her attempts to have children.

So I wonder, when real things happen to writers like Stephen King, do they ever feel guilty about the things they’ve written that were sourced from their lives and their relationships with real people? I guess I already know the answer is yes. That’s probably why Mr. King has written books like Mr. Mercedes and The Dark Half.

I’m not sure I’ll continue on this WIP now. Or, maybe I will and it will be that much stronger because the place it comes from will be that much more real. I guess only time will tell. As usual.





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