There’s one outstanding King of Maine

The popular (and how) “king of horror” has long deserved kudos for getting so many people to read, period, especially in today’s mass-media and marketing saturation. (I refuse to say “culture.”) Plus, there’s evidence he’s a much “better” writer than his top-selling novels reflect, given his appearances as a poet under pseudonyms and a few rogue novels. He’s quite conscious of structure and a bigger picture, for one thing.

Add to that poet Donald Hall’s observation that New England has a gothic nature, which King has played in spades, and King’s own comments about today’s publishing scene in his duels with the critics, often with advice I wished I’d been able to apply to my own work, but mine remains what it is.

All I’m saying is don’t underestimate him.

  1. His upbringing, should you care, would easily fill a dark series of stories all on its own. Somehow, he managed to get back to Maine.
  2. His wife, Tabitha Spruce, seems to be much more of a muse and guiding spirit than has been acknowledged. They met in college at the University of Maine and are still married. She stayed with him through a period of heavy alcohol abuse followed by recovery and sobriety.
  3. He’s said he married her “because of the fish she cooked for me,” and his favorite foods are salmon and cheesecake.
  4. Often critically dismissed as a commercial, pop-culture writer – horror, supernatural, suspense, crime, science-fiction, and fantasy fiction – King nevertheless embodied a seriously dedicated author who spent long hours day after day at the craft. He had good reasons to return fire at the more elite literary side of the profession.
  5. He’s never left his blue-collar background. Witness his longtime residency in Bangor, Maine, where you can live in one of the city’s classic big mansions and still be one more regular guy.
  6. Despite his wealth, his politics lean left. He and his wife are active philanthropists – ranking sixth among Maine charities. It’s said no deserving child in Maine is denied a college education, thanks to the King scholarships.
  7. He’s an avid Red Sox fan. And a daughter’s a Unitarian-Universalist minister. Wanna talk about being a New Englander?
  8. His life was changed by an afternoon accident in 1999 when he was struck by a minivan while walking along a highway that left him severely injured and sent him to Florida to live through our harsh winters. Still, he writes on.
  9. He’s claimed to not use cell phones, though that was a while ago. As for other technology? There’s his recent spat with Twitter, which tried to charge him for contributing content for the platform – rather than the other way around.
  10. His 65-plus books have sold more than 400 million copies and spawned countless films, TV series and miniseries, and comic books. And still he’s advocating for the better royalties and advance payments to entry-level authors.

The King home in Bangor is a popular tourist attraction. A tree trunk outside has been transformed into a wild sculpture.

Writing versus real life

There are many reasons I spend so much butt time at the keyboard, as poet/novelist Charles Bukowski once compressed the practice.

I’ve examined some of them elsewhere, but what I’m circling back to today is the necessity of bringing some kind of order to the seeming chaos of what happens to each of us in “everyday life,” at least through the lenses of my own encounters.

What emerges is hardly objective, no matter my training in objective journalism. If anything, I lean on the hopeful side of history. The side we see as progress, even in the face of the clouds of doom.

Long ago I crossed a threshold where I couldn’t move forward without drawing on so much that had accumulated before then. I think of it as turning the compost, to give it air and enrichen future crops, worms and all. Yes, those blessed red wigglers. Or wrigglers, depending on your spelling.

Am I self-deluded? Or is my practice of writing one of prayer, even in the face of so much hopelessness?

What is life, anyway, apart from what we experience subjectively?

So here we are, all the same.

Keep writing, those of you in this vein. No matter the outcome.


Cutting the book’s trim size cut my royalty

You might think it’s a minor thing, deciding whether your new book should be 9-by-6 inches or the usual trade paperback 8½-by-5½ inch dimension, but the smaller trim size does look and feel more professional, even elegant.

It’s easier to retrieve from some of my bookshelves, too.

It comes at an added cost, though – an additional $1.40 or so, out of my royalty.

You wouldn’t expect that for the smaller size, would you?

At some point, that might be the swing factor in raising the cover price.

For now, I simply want this one to be just right. Besides, it will still take a lot of sales for that difference to add up, and we are dealing with the story of a small faith community which just might not have that much interest for anyone else unless this takes off like, well, something about covered bridges in Iowa.


Having a back cover, too

One big difference between paper books and ebooks is the back cover. The digital versions simply don’t have one – the blurb has to go on the retailer’s website instead.

Yes, the two formats have their differences. An ebook is more like a scroll, but one that can be easily searched and rewound.

A paper book, on the other hand, is more like a box, with the covers working like the wrapping on a present, full of enticement. Even the lettering on the spine can work that way.

Better yet, the back cover can start talking to you even before you open the pages. “Come on in,” you can hear it address you, even in a crowded bookstore.

Come to the book release party!

If you’re anywhere near Dover, New Hampshire, on Nov. 5, feel free to stop by the Quaker meetinghouse for the official Quaking Dover book release party.

The meet-and-greet event takes place at 7 pm at 141 Central Avenue and is free and open to the public. As a Covid precaution, we will be masking.

Copies of the book will also be available for purchase and author signing.

In the meantime, it’s release date is coming up on Saturday. Check with your local bookseller to order a copy.


How can anyone ever read all of what’s pouring in?

There’s just so much out there, in print and especially online, and it keeps proliferating daily, even hourly, and I don’t know about you, but I’m in the camp that finds it truly overwhelming.

Everywhere, each minute, make that second, we’re expanding outward, away, from any notion of a renaissance man, and woman, who could possibly be well informed on every facet of a civilized society.

Even in science – or maybe, especially in science – it’s become impossible to keep abreast of the flood.

Interdisciplinary collaboration has become more essential than ever, but also more elusive.

Is this leading toward disintegration?

Is this, in fact, the root of the reactionary backlash around the globe, not just the Trumpian cultists?

Yeah, the folks who rely on Fox TV biased “news” in the USA.

I look at the crises facing our children and grandchildren, and these are critical, but there are so many it’s mindboggling trying to decide where to pitch in taking a stand. Climate change, population explosion, racism, corrupt politics, the one percent and injustice, environmental protection, medical systems, education … Hey, I’m back to hippie era causes on steroids.

How are we supposed to preserve our sanity and still press toward a better future?

We still have to be informed, right? And thinking clearly?

Just listen to some powerful lines from the bared heart

The best poem I’ve ever read in nearly six decades of the New Yorker is one that wasn’t even presented as one of its two weekly poetry selections.

Instead, it appeared recently within a theater review, where the play under consideration reminded the critic “of the late poet Essex Hemphill, a master of frank desire whose smart, life-hungry speakers toss of lines like these:

I am lonely for past kisses,
for wild lips certain streets
breed for pleasure.
Romance is a foxhole.
This kind of love frightens me.
I don’t want to die sleeping with soldiers
I don’t love.”

A bit later comes a couplet from a different Hemphill poem:

I am beautiful.
I will endure.


My, how I admire the directness of those lines, their acerbic observations unencumbered by literary aspirations.

Yes, he skirts the imagist realm of so much of my own verse but somehow, to my eyes, averts any preachiness that can come from the subjects he’s examining.

What hits me the most is the clarity and intensity of his self-examination.

Yes, each time I return to these.

Gee, has it seemed I’ve been a bit AWOL lately?

Have to confess the Red Barn posts have been moving along on schedule, but just not as many or as varied as usual.

Seems I’m not alone that way, here on WordPress or other social media, for that matter.

On this end, I’m knee-deep in trying to get a big project in gear – the part that follows the publication of a new book, which is just around the corner. These next steps are time-consuming and emotionally a roller-coaster. I’m always feeling I’m way behind there, as well as uncertain of the way.

As a complication, about a month ago I suffered a physical fall in the middle of the night and was reminded once more how fragile the body gets in older folks, aka the elderly, and how risky that can be when living alone. I’m still feeling some of the aches after the bruises and what else and won’t be resuming the twice-a-week fitness classes till after Labor Day.

Quite simply, that’s slowed me way down.

And then there was my week at the annual sessions of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends (Quaker) off in Castleton, Vermont, now that we’re gathering face-to-face again. Getting across northern New England, however, is a remarkably drawn-out trip, no matter how stunning some of the scenery can be. I did see parts of Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont for the first time.

Weighing on me especially has been the surreal political and social nightmare unfolding here in America. It’s not just Trump, either, but closer to home the threatened return of Paul LePage to the governorship of Maine. Trying to write about that has been paralyzing, and the news developments keep mounting at a dizzying pace.

So here we are and summer’s almost over. It hasn’t exactly felt lazy.

Turning the focus on his own mess

When I was revising two earlier novels into what became Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, I did wonder about a parallel volume from the point of view of his lovers. What a cad or sweetheart or lost soul or whatever they saw him as. Yeah, dump it all on.

You know, the self-centered hippie dude, Peace Love & all.

Well, there was a hot volume of erotica, Naked Came the Stranger, where each chapter was secretly written by a different person or party who then hid behind a character who got the author credit and posed for the interviews. The various writers didn’t even see the other material until the book came out, not that it ultimately mattered. She did have every color of eye you could imagine.

On this end, I’d welcome submissions for my own project, if only I had space to tackle it, but time is drizzling out, along with the original impulse.

I mean, the hippie chicks in his life weren’t the only ones screwed up, OK? Let’s be honest. Facing the music could be amusing and healing for all.