Horror Legend Stephen King Skypes with Boise State Creative Writing Class 

click to enlarge MITCH WIELAND
  • Mitch Wieland
When asked if he's a fan of famed horror/suspense writer Stephen King, Boise State University Creative Writing Professor Mitchell Wieland's response was short and to the point: "Of course," he wrote in an email, "who isn't?"

As it turns out, Boise State's Creative Writing department is jam-packed with Stephen King fans—and one of its adjunct faculty, New York Times-bestselling author Ridley Pearson, knows King personally. In fact, the two have played together in the all-author, fundraising rock band The Rock Bottom Remainders—along with writers like Mitch Album, Dave Barry, Greg Iles, Amy Tan and Scott Turow—for more than 25 years. Thanks to that connection, the students in Pearson's Writing Life class at Boise State on March 28 got to talk face-to-face with the legendary author via Skype on the classroom's projector screen.

"[King] only plays with [the band] every four or five years, but he's playing with us in May of this year, so I had flown down to his winter house in Florida and spent a weekend with him to sort of coach him up on some of the songs that we're going to do," Pearson said about asking for the favor. When he pitched King on the idea of speaking to his Boise State class, King said "Sure!" To which Pearson replied, "You're kidding."

He wasn't. The date was just as much of a surprise for Pearson's students, who have spent the semester learning about the daily lives and processes of writers in the 200-level course.

"I didn't know what we were doing that day until Professor Pearson causally mentioned Stephen King's name," Ariel Amador, a student in the class, told BW via Facebook. "Of course I freaked and was jumping up and down internally."

Amador said that although the class had spoken to other writers over Skype, including Billy Collins, Danielle Paige, and Rick Elice (Pearson said more big names are on the way), they never knew which class one of the high-profile chats would pop up in.

click to enlarge Students were able to ask King questions about his writing process. - MITCH WIELAND
  • Mitch Wieland
  • Students were able to ask King questions about his writing process.

Students said Pearson started the talk by asking King questions about his writing process, which he spoke to before opening up a Q&A. The full talk spanned 45 minutes. Amador was able to ask King about editing and pacing, and said the author's response was striking.

"In addition to some of the typical stuff he mentioned, such as getting rid of unnecessary details and inconsistencies, he told the class that whenever you are working on a story, writing or editing, it is like being alone in the dark by a small fire, and as you write (or edit) the story, its character will slowly emerge from the dark and contribute to the fire—something he expresses in his book On Writing," Amador said.

Wieland was also able to sit in on the class, and said that for him, King's brilliance stood out.

"King talked a lot about how he does not plot out this novels, but rather tries to find a powerful situation at the start. If the opening situation is strong enough, he says, the plot will grow out of it. He discussed writing Misery and Cujo in this way," he wrote.

Darby McBride, another Writing Life student, asked King for suggestions on world-building.

"The experience was amazing, Mr. King was very personable and funny, and was able to give a lot of cool insight into his writing process," McBride told BW via Facebook.

Amador said that King closed the students' once-in-a-lifetime experience with a personal touch: "Once everyone asked their question, he signed off by wishing us good luck on our writing and saying that he loved us; I am sure it was jokingly, but I take it to heart anyway."

A new adaptation of King's 1983 novel Pet Sematary—a chilling tale centered on a Native American graveyard—is set to hit the big screen this year, starring Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz and John Lithgow. For the curious, Rolling Stone has an early review
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