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MILLLICENT G. DILLON, represented by Harold Ober Associates, is the world’s expert on authors Jane and Paul Bowles. She has won five O. Henry Awards and been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner. I worked with Dillon on her memoir, The Absolute Elsewhere, in which she describes in luminous prose her private meeting with Albert Einstein to discuss the ethics of the atomic bomb. Read more. . .


SASHA TROYAN is a Professor of English at Montclair University and author of the critically-acclaimed novels Angels in the Morning and The Forgotten Island, both Booksense Selections, beautiful stories based upon her childhood in France. I worked with Troyan to develop her new novels, Marriage A Trois and Semester. Read more. . .


LUCIA ORTH is the author of the debut novel, Baby Jesus Pawn Shop, which received critical acclaim from Publisher’s Weekly, NPR, Booklist, Library Journal and Small Press Reviews. I have edited a number of essays and articles for Orth. Read more. . .


BHAICHAND PATEL, retired after an illustrious career with the United Nations, is now a journalist based out of New Dehli and Bombay, an expert on Bollywood, and author of three non-fiction books published by Penguin. I edited Patel’s best-selling debut novel, Mothers, Lovers, and Other Strangers, published by Pan Macmillan. Read more. . .


SCOTT WILBANKS, represented by Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency, is the author of the debut novel, The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster, published by Sourcebooks in August, 2015. I’m working with Wilbanks on his sophomore novel, Easy Pickens, the story of the world’s only medically-diagnosed case of chronic naiveté. Read more. . .


SCOTT WARRENDER is a professional musician and Annie Award-nominated lyricist specializing in musical theater. I work with Warrender regularly on his short stories and debut novel, Putaway. Read more. . .


M. TERRY GREEN enjoys a successful self-publishing career with multiple sci-fi/fantasy series set in the Multiverse, based upon her expertise in anthropology and technology. I worked with Green to develop a new speculative fiction series. Read more. . .


DARREN D. BEYER is an ex-NASA experiment engineer who has worked on every Space Shuttle orbiter but Challenger. In his sci-fi Anghazi Series, Beyer uses his scientific expertise to create a galaxy in which “space bridges” allow interstellar travel based upon the latest in real theoretical physics. Read more. . .


ANIA VESENNY, represented by Beverly Slopen Literary Agency, is a recipient of the Evelyn Sullivan Gilbertson Award for Emerging Artist in Literature and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. I edited Vesenny’s debut novel, Swearing in Russian at the Northern Lights, and her second novel, Sandara. Read more. . .


STUART WAKEFIELD is the #1 Kindle Best Selling author of Body of Water, the first novel in his Orcadian Trilogy. Body of Water was 1 of 10 books long-listed for the Polari First Book Prize. I edited Wakefield’s second novel, Memory of Water, and look forward to editing the final novel of his Orcadian Trilogy, Spirit of Water. Read more. . .


GERALDINE EVANS is a best-selling British author. Her historical novel, Reluctant Queen, is a Category No 1 Best Seller on Amazon UK. I edited Death Dues, #11 in Evans’ fifteen popular Rafferty and Llewellyn cozy police procedurals, which received a glowing review from the Midwest Book Review. Read more. . .


JUDY LEE DUNN is an award-winning marketing blogger. I am working with Dunn to develop and line edit her memoir of reconciling liberal activism with her emotional difficulty accepting the lesbianism of her beloved daughter, Tonight Show comedienne Kellye Rowland. Read more. . .


LISA MERCADO-FERNANDEZ writes literary novels of love, loss, and friendship set in the small coastal towns of New England. I edited Mercado-Fernandez’ debut novel The Shoebox and second novel The Eighth Summer. Read more. . .


JEFF RUSSELL is the author of the debut novel, The Rules of Love and Law, based upon Jeff’s abiding passions for legal history and justice. Read more. . .


LEN JOY is the author of the debut novel, American Past Time. I worked with Len to develop his novel from its core: a short story about the self-destructive ambitions of a Minor League baseball star. Read more. . .


ALEX KENDZIORSKI is an American physician working in South Africa on community health education and wildlife conservation. I edited Kendziorski’s debut novel Wait a Season for Their Names about the endangered African painted wolf, for which he is donating the profits to wildlife conservation. Read more. . .


ALEXANDRA GODFREY blogs for the New England Journal of Medicine. I work with Godfrey on her short fiction and narrative nonfiction, including a profile of the doctor who helped save her son’s life, “Mending Broken Hearts.” Read more. . .


In addition, I work with scores of aspiring writers in their apprenticeship to this wonderful literary art and craft.

  • By Victoria Mixon

    I love ghost stories.

    Particularly the whole gothic genre of the nineteenth century: intense questioning of reality layered with beautiful houses and dramatic landscapes and sometimes hilariously-dated kitsch. I’ve read all of Mrs. Radcliffe. Whooee!

    I especially love the concept that my love for ghost stories is the other side of my utter yellow-bellied, chicken-livered response the few times I’ve thought there was a real ghost in my vicinity. Have you ever seen anyone levitate straight in the air and cling to a chandelier?

    Yeah, that was me.

    That makes my relationship with ghosts and ghostly ephemera the complete encapsulation of everything I know about the internal conflict that is the driving fuel of all fiction:

    1. Be careful what you wish for or you might just get it

    2. When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers

    So it will be no shock to any of you to learn that my one of my favorite novels of all time is Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.

    My god, what an amazing writer. I stumbled on that book in a second-hand store a few years ago, but I was not surprised to discover later that it is canonical and, in fact, one of the novels that taught Stephen King his trade. (I would love to get into a discussion of all Jackson’s work, and at a some point I probably will, but for now I’m going to content myself with recommending this gorgeous, mysterious novel to writers in general.)

    I was interested enough when I heard that King discusses The Haunting of Hill House in his nonfiction exploration of horror to run out and buy a copy of Danse Macabre, which King wrote in 1981 between Firestarter and Cujo (not counting one of the novels he wrote under his Richard Bachman-Turner-Overdrive pseudonym).

    Now, it turns out King’s interpretation of Hill House is, sadly, so wildly pedestrian as to be almost useless. He analyzes Hill House at length as the height of narcissism because it’s about the internal world of a young woman with whom he can’t identify (although one of his own favorite novels is Richard Matheson’s The Shrinking Man, which is about the internal world of a man with whom he apparently can). King finally admits there might be another “truly terrifying” interpretation of Hill House, which is that it’s the house itself that’s generating the ghosts. . .um, bingo, Stephen.

    However, King is still heck of smart, his book is a meticulous research project on the horror genre of the twentieth century (largely movies and television, but also fiction), and he’s a very good writer when he wants to be.

    I dog-eared dozens of pages of Danse Macabre so I could go back later and copy out quotes and insights, which I am studying right now. And I’m discovering that even when King is a little limited in his exploration of his basic insights, they lead me into truly rich ground in my own understanding of fiction.

    1. Fiction is seeking pressure points

      Wow, do I love this insight.

      Fiction is about reaching into the reader, past their intellectual understanding of both your story and themself, and pressing where it’s sensitive. Some writers—like King—do what they do because for many people the resulting adrenalin rush of terror temporarily deadens all other feeling and gives them some relief from their own fears. And King has learned that readers in an era of political upheaval and economic uncertainty are willing to plunk down a whole lot of cash for relief.

      This is also why romance aka soft-core p*rn is the top-selling genre these days.

      Adrenalin rush through either procreation or running for your life, the two most predictable chemical jolts in the animal kingdom. Temporary relief.

      Yes, indeed.

      But even if you’re not interested in simple-minded triggering of the adrenalin of terror or sex (as I really am not—there are real-life social and personal consequences to addiction to those particular adrenalin triggers, which I’m not going to get into here), your goal is still to trigger emotion in the reader.

      Not in your characters. In the reader. Visceral response.

      Without that, you’re just talking to yourself.

    2. Without belief, there is no reader engagement

      King talks about reader engagement purely in terms of terror and horror, but again this insight applies to all genres, all fiction.

      Is your goal to engage the reader in a fantasy adventure? That reader had better believe the logic behind your fantasy, or they’re not going to feel the thrill of the adventure.

      Is your goal to engage the reader in an exploration of sci-fi? That reader had better believe in your science, or they’re not going to feel invested in the consequences.

      Is your goal to engage the reader in YA or MG? That reader had better believe in the authenticity of your teenagers’ or children’s world, or they’re not going to feel one cotton-pickin’ thing for the dilemmas of your characters.

    3. Fiction is both what you say out loud and what you say in a whisper

      This is called subtext, and it’s essential for all storytelling.

      An enormous amount of the writer’s toolbox is devoted to techniques specifically designed for subtext: structure, pacing, resonance, juxtaposition, dialog, description, action, gesture and mannerism and expression, word choice and and sentence structure and telling detail. The list goes on and on.

      Devote yourself to learning these techniques, and the entire universe of subtext will blossom for you with a complex and unearthly beauty.

    4. Locking the world out is locking the world in

      Again, King discusses this purely in terms of terror—that the character’s efforts to hide (specifically inside a house) lead them very often to closet themself with their enemy.

      But this is, in the greater scheme of things, why readers read: as they sink into fiction to escape their own worries and griefs, they find themselves unconsciously drawn to stories that reflect those very things.

      This is the psychological reflex of healing. We are unconsciously desperate to lock ourselves in with what truly haunts us (not just what pushes our buttons), to face it and triumph once and for all.

    5. Lives and careers can be destroyed in a moment

      Fast, succinct, condensed—these are the hallmarks of great fiction.

      You want your fiction to be powerful, don’t you? Well, power is greatest where matter is most condensed. Don’t stand too close to a black hole, people.

    6. Reader engagement arises from the feeling that the world is ‘unmaking’

      And this is perhaps my very favorite insight. Just that word: ‘unmaking.’ King has put his finger on the pressure point of all humanity with that one.

      Both anticipation and anxiety are the key human responses to the possibility that something we want and need will all our souls is being ‘unmade.’ And those are two of the most powerful push/pull emotions a writer can use.

      Push the reader away with anxiety—oh, no! things are falling apart!

      Pull the reader in with anticipation—oh, boy! things are falling apart!

      The ways in which the reader feels these developments depend entirely upon how you craft your characters, what needs you give them, what illumination you cast upon their endless struggles to meet their needs.

      This is the core of the writer’s work: employing the myriad wonderful techniques of fiction to play upon the reader’s emotions like a xylophone.

      Oh, yes.

    7. Stephen King did a lot of cocaine in the early ’80s

      And you can sure tell.

      You get this from the last third of Danse Macabre, which escalates into the final chapters until you can veritably hear that ole razor scraping the mirror. “Just one more last thing,” he starts saying. “Just one more last thing.”

      Notice how he loses reader engagement when it stops being about leading the reader where he’s decided he wants them to go and begins to be only about him and his frantic, hopped-up need to just keep talking?

      Take a lesson from Stephen King.

    This post was brought to you by M. Terry Green, author of Shaman, Healer, Heretic, who asked me a simple question in email this morning (“How are you?”) and started an avalanche.

    Subscribe:

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    “The freshest and most relevant
    advice you’ll find.”

    —Helen Gallagher, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

    The Art & Craft of Writing Fiction

    The Art & Craft of Writing Stories


    A. VICTORIA MIXON, FREELANCE INDEPENDENT EDITOR

    VICTORIA’S ADVICE COLUMN

    19 Comments

19 Responses to “7 Things I Learned Last Week from Stephen King”

  1. I love your blog! Thanks for sharing another great article.

  2. I read Danse Macabre only once, perhaps when I was too young to really dig it, but I remember being disappointed. Perhaps it’s time for a re-read?

    The Haunting of Hill House is also one of my favorite novels! It involves the inner world of a woman that I can totally relate to 😉

  3. Of course I *had* to come see. Geez am I glad I did. This is one of those fabulous Analysis meets Book Review meets Writing Advice meets Life Coach articles that seem to be your specialty. Just reading it sends me running back to my WIP with new thoughts. Plus a mention on your blog? The highlight of January!

    Bachman-Turner-Overdrive.

    *snicker*

    I am, of course, now bound to ask: how are you, how are you, how are you?

  4. Just fine, thanks. And you?

  5. I’m pretty much okay.

    Oh wait. Am I supposed to write some monumental blog post now?

  6. I have not read DANSE MACABRE in years…I need to get another copy. I always feel that King makes us believe in things that do not exist, like vampires, werewolves, and other abnormal things, etc., and I always read King with all the lights on. He’s also my favorite when it comes to humor in horror. I think I get part of my sick sense of humor from having read him.

  7. I’m a fraidy cat and love ghost stories, too. I enjoyed Northanger Abbey, and Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black is possibly my favourite; I can’t wait to read more of her writing. I’d never heard of Ann Radcliffe, so thanks for mentioning that. I must read Danse Macabre: I work part time as a cleaner and the office I clean (an old Victorian house) was once a nursing home and is supposed to be haunted. It’s now a fostering agency. I’m filling in all the gaps and writing a novella about it. Fun stuff. 🙂

  8. Excellent post, M. Terry,
    That is a rich analysis of King’s book with helpful and enlightening info. I think I saw the Hill House movie quite a while back, but I have not read the novel, and I will now. I should be studying writing that good. I’ll be getting a copy of Danse Macabre too.

    In that general horror category, I’ve been re-watching episodes of the TV series “Poltergeist the Legacy” which I enjoyed a lot way back when. Ever seen that? Good writing and special effects.

    “With that in mind, I’m considering how best to use those days–and I am writing.” me too!

  9. First I must agree – this is a fatastically inspiring post! Upon the introduction I thought for sure you would be talking about King’s book 11/22/63, (which is one of his best stories IMO), but I’m glad you didn’t because you turned me on to others I didn’t know about, and I’m shocked that I didn’t, especially Shirley Jackson’s – I love her work and just can’t believe I haven’t even heard of The Haunting of Hill House. Must buy today!
    Is that run-on enough for you? 😉 I am a sucker for ghost stories, mainly because I’ve encountered at least four, possibly more, in my life and oh, what a thrill! You’d think that would inspire me to produce more paranormal work, and I have done some but not nearly enough. Maybe it’s time to pick up Dance Macabre and get to work.

    Thanks for another great post Victoria!

  10. I mean Danse Macabre – duh…

  11. Actually, King managed to create confusion with that title, himself.

    His collection of stories Night Shift was published in French as Danse Macabre.

  12. […] Things I Learned Last Week From Stephen King – Victoria Mixon writes about what she’s learned from Stephen King. […]

  13. I got SO MUCH from this article. And it was delievered at the perfect time for me as these are a big reminder of the things I am desperate to remember as I work on my own project. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  14. I will have to remember #8. Could change my writing career.

  15. Fantastic post, Victoria! I love Stephen King and I ALWAYS walk away from your blog with lots to think about. 🙂

  16. […] 7 Things I Learned Last Week From Stephen King by Victoria Mixon (you can never go wrong with Victoria or Mr. King). […]

  17. This is insightful and wonderful, Victoria, thank you. I’m a HUGE King fan, but I too didn’t appreciate that phase of his writing. He’s also wrong about Hill House – one of the best horror novels of all time. The first time I read it, I was in the living room, my mother was in the kitchen next door. I read a critical scene (talk about pressure points!) and was literally frozen in terror – I couldn’t even call to her.

    Wow, those are great times!

  18. I carried Danse Macabre around for a long time before it pushed me into writing. Stephen KIng explained storytelling. And I’m no longer ashamed when we play “Who’s your favorite author?” I pipe up “Stephen King” and let those who read one classic piece of literature and adopted it.



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