(Had someone told me when I was eight that Stephen King loved baseball, I might have learned to give a damn about the game. Clearly, the universe missed a bet.)
The first really serious piece of writing I can remember doing was a twelve-page essay, when I was nine, explaining to my mother why she had to let me read Stephen King. It had footnotes and a bibliography. I slid it under her bedroom door; she bought me a copy of Christine from the used bookstore down the street. I had already read Cujo and Carrie illicitly, sneaking pages like other kids snuck looks at dirty magazines, but Christine was my first ALLOWED Stephen King. I devoured it. And then, like a horror-fiction-focused Pac-Man, I turned on the rest.
Stephen King, without ever knowing who I was, helped me through some of the hardest times in my life. I read IT all the way through a court case that seemed like it was going to destroy everything I loved, forever. I was nine. My grandmother bought me his new hardcovers every year for Christmas. I bought tattered paperbacks with nickels I had hidden in my pillowcase, where no one else could find them. I skipped meals to buy more books. I read them all, over and over, and I endured. He taught me that sometimes, dead is better, things change, and you own what you build. He taught me to read if I wanted to write, and to love the words, and to never be ashamed of loving whatever the hell it was I wanted to love.
In a weird way, Stephen King gave me permission for a great many things, and since those things are integral to who I grew up to be, I have to say that he, through his work, was just as big an influence on me as any other adult in my life.
He taught me you can get out.
Today is his birthday; he was born in 1947, and he's still writing today, which I appreciate greatly. I may never meet him, and that's probably a good thing, as I'm not sure I'd be able to speak English if I did. But I surely do appreciate the man.
Happy birthday, Stephen King.