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UMaine English department hosts Stephen King

On Oct. 4 and 5, the University of Maine English department hosted alumnus and bestselling horror novelist Stephen King for a series of talks on the craft of writing. The events were contained to a small group of around 15 English students with a passion for creative writing. The talks were divided between the subjects of King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” in which students spoke about the writing process, and King’s “Lisey’s Story,” in which the discussion centered around the nature of screenplay writing.

The first of the talks was over King’s memoir “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” and was held in Barrows Hall’s John T. Hill Auditorium. Students were encouraged to read the work before the event and come with questions on the craft of creative writing.

Caroline Bicks, a UMaine professor and the Stephen E. King Chair in Literature, began the event by introducing King, soon turning the stage over to him. 

“What I do is a mystery to me,” King said at the beginning of the event. He explained that the craft of writing comes from an unknown place. He continued with a brief introduction before opening the floor to questions from the audience.

Students were able to bring up both quotes and moments they found pertinent in his memoir, and were given the opportunity to learn about King’s writing process. During the event, King spoke about his struggles with writer’s block, and how he began to gain confidence as a young writer.

The second talk, which happened on Oct. 5 at the Ferland Engineering Center, centered around King’s “Lisey’s Story,” which was recently adapted into an Apple TV original limited series. Participants were asked to read the novel and watch the series in preparation for the discussion.

King spoke briefly about the nature of the story, and how it came to him.

“I got the idea for ‘Lisey’s Story’ in 2001. I had a serious case of pneumonia in both lungs,” King said of his experience in the hospital. “My wife decided that she was going to redo my office.”

King explained that when he returned the room had been completely redone.

“I looked at it and had this idea that I was dead, and I was a ghost visiting the room. That was the seed of the story,” King said.

Students were encouraged to ask questions about the nature of adapting a work for the screen and the process behind creating a series for television. 

King spoke to the nature of screenwriting as a collaborative process between the director and the writer, and the personal nature of “Lisey’s Story.”

“What I understand is the work is healing,” King said in response to a question about the symbolism of the healing pool present in the story. “The work is wonderful when it goes well. And when it doesn’t go well it’s wonderful.”

King also imparted knowledge about the craft and vocation of writing.

“Try to the best of your ability to tell a story that’s true,” King said. “For me ‘Lisey’s Story’ was what I understood about marriage, and the secrets about marriage.”

He emphasized that a story should come from a place of sincerity and excitement.

When asked about whether the inspiration for the story’s monster, the Long Boy, came from his own life experiences, King answered that it did.

“We all have our own monsters, don’t we?” he said. “Everything from anxiety to phobias to drug problems to alcohol problems. We’ve all got a Long Boy. Some are more dangerous than others.”

King encouraged students to harness those fears, to face them and use them to better their craft.

Several students weighed-in on their experiences following the events.

“It was a truly incredible experience that I didn’t think I’d get the chance to have when I started at UMaine. It inspired me, and was a great opportunity that I’m thankful for,” said Jackson Heichel, a fourth-year English student.

Other students shared the sentiment that the experience was one that they would not soon forget.

“I think it was really cool. Growing up watching things like the Shining, and reading King’s work and meeting him was a unique experience that I’ll never forget,” said Jacqui Weaver, a fourth-year English student.

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