Chapter Excerpt

And Furthermore, Part I: Door Shut, Door Open

Earlier in this book, when writing about my brief career as a sports reporter for the LisbonWeekly Enterprise(I was, in fact, the entire sports department; a small-town Howard Cosell), I offered an example of how the editing process works. That example was necessarily brief, and dealt with nonfiction. The passage that follows is fiction. It is completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut -- it's the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts. I suggest that you look at it closely before going on to the edited version.

The Hotel Story

Mike Enslin was still in the revolving door when he saw Ostermeyer, the manager of the Hotel Dolphin, sitting in one of the overstuffed lobby chairs. Mike's heart sank a little.Maybe should have brought the damned lawyer along again, after all,he thought. Well, too late now. And even if Ostermeyer had decided to throw up another roadblock or two between Mike and room 1408, that wasn't all bad; it would simply add to the story when he finally told it.

Ostermeyer saw him, got up, and was crossing the room with one pudgy hand held out as Mike left the revolving door. The Dolphin was on Sixty-first Street, around the corner from Fifth Avenue; small but smart. A man and woman dressed in evening clothes passed Mike as he reached out and took Ostermeyer's hand, switching his small overnight case to his left hand in order to do it. The woman was blonde, dressed in black, of course, and the light, flowery smell of her perfume seemed to summarize New York. On the mezzanine level, someone was playing "Night and Day" in the bar, as if to underline the summary.

"Mr. Enslin. Good evening."

"Mr. Ostermeyer. Is there a problem?"

Ostermeyer looked pained. For a moment he glanced around the small, smart lobby, as if for help. At the concierge's stand, a man was discussing theater tickets with his wife while the concierge himself watched them with a small, patient smile. At the front desk, a man with the rumpled look one only got after long hours in Business Class was discussing his reservation with a woman in a smart black suit that could itself have doubled for evening wear. It was business as usual at the Hotel Dolphin. There was help for everyone except poor Mr. Ostermeyer, who had fallen into the writer's clutches.

"Mr. Ostermeyer?" Mike repeated, feeling a little sorry for the man.

"No," Ostermeyer said at last. "No problem. But, Mr. Enslin...could I speak to you for a moment in my office?"

So, Mike thought.He wants to try one more time.

Under other circumstances he might have been impatient. Now he was not. It would help the section on room 1408, offer the proper ominous tone the readers of his books seemed to crave -- it was to be One Final Warning -- but that wasn't all. Mike Enslin hadn't been sure until now, in spite of all the backing and filling; now he was. Ostermeyer wasn't playing a part. Ostermeyer was really afraid of room 1408, and what might happen to Mike there tonight.

"Of course, Mr. Ostermeyer. Should I leave my bag at the desk, or bring it?"

"Oh, we'll bring it along, shall we?" Ostermeyer, the good host, reached for it. Yes, he still held out some hope of persuading Mike not to stay in the room. Otherwise, he would have directed Mike to the desk...or taken it there himself. "Allow me."

"I'm fine with it," Mike said. "Nothing but a change of clothes and a toothbrush."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," Mike said, holding his eyes. "I'm afraid I am."

For a moment Mike thought Ostermeyer was going to give up. He sighed, a little round man in a dark cutaway coat and a neatly knotted tie, and then he squared his shoulders again. "Very good, Mr. Enslin. Follow me."

The hotel manager had seemed tentative in the lobby, depressed, almost beaten. In his oak-paneled office, with the pictures of the hotel on the walls (the Dolphin had opened in October of 1910 -- Mike might publish without the benefit of reviews in the journals or the big-city papers, but he did his research), Ostermeyer seemed to gain assurance again. There was a Persian carpet on the floor. Two standing lamps cast a mild yellow light. A desk-lamp with a green lozenge-shaped shade stood on the desk, next to a humidor. And next to the humidor were Mike Enslin's last three books. Paperback editions, of course; there had been no hardbacks. Yet he did quite well.Mine host has been doing a little research of his own,Mike thought.

Mike sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He expected Ostermeyer to sit behind the desk, where he could draw authority from it, but Ostermeyer surprised him. He sat in the other chair on what he probably thought of as the employees' side of the desk, crossed his legs, then leaned forward over his tidy little belly to touch the humidor.

"Cigar, Mr. Enslin? They're not Cuban, but they're quite good."

"No, thank you. I don't smoke."

Ostermeyer's eyes shifted to the cigarette behind Mike's right ear -- parked there on a jaunty jut the way an oldtime wisecracking New York reporter might have parked his next smoke just below his fedora with the press tag stuck in the band. The cigarette had become so much a part of him that for a moment Mike honestly didn't know what Ostermeyer was looking at. Then he remembered, laughed, took it down, looked at it himself, then looked back at Ostermeyer.

"Haven't had a cigarette in nine years," he said. "I had an older brother who died of lung cancer. I quit shortly after he died. The cigarette behind the ear..." He shrugged. "Part affectation, part superstition, I guess. Kind of like the ones you sometimes see on people's desks or walls, mounted in a little box with a sign saying break glass in case of emergency. I sometimes tell people I'll light up in case of nuclear war. Is 1408 a smoking room, Mr. Ostermeyer? Just in case nuclear war breaks out?"

"As a matter of fact, it is."

"Well," Mike said heartily, "that's one less worry in the watches of the night."

Mr. Ostermeyer sighed again, unamused, but this one didn't have the disconsolate quality of his lobby-sigh. Yes, it was the room, Mike reckoned.Hisroom. Even this afternoon, when Mike had come accompanied by Robertson, the lawyer, Ostermeyer had seemed less flustered once they were in here. At the time Mike had thought it was partly because they were no longer drawing stares from the passing public, partly because Ostermeyer had given up. Now he knew better. It was the room. And why not? It was a room with good pictures on the walls, a good rug on the floor, and good cigars -- although not Cuban -- in the humidor. A lot of managers had no doubt conducted a lot of business in here since October of 1910; in its own way it was as New York as the blonde woman in her black off-the-shoulder dress, her smell of perfume and her unarticulated promise of sleek sex in the small hours of the morning -- New York sex. Mike himself was from Omaha, although he hadn't been back there in a lot of years.

"You still don't think I can talk you out of this idea of yours, do you?" Ostermeyer asked.

"I know you can't," Mike said, replacing the cigarette behind his ear.

What follows is revised copy of this same opening passage -- it's the story putting on its clothes, combing its hair, maybe adding just a small dash of cologne. Once these changes are incorporated into my document, I'm ready to open the door and face the world.

The Hotel Story

By Stephen King

Mike Enslin was still in the revolving door when he saw Ostermeyer, the manager of the Hotel Dolphin, sitting in one of the overstuffed lobby chairs. Mike's heart sank a little.Maybe should have brought the damned lawyer along again, after all,he thought. Well, too late now. And even if Ostermeyer had decided to throw up another roadblock or two between Mike and room 1408, that wasn't all bad; it would simply add to the story when he finally told it.

Ostermeyer saw him, got up, and was crossing the room with one pudgy hand held out as Mike left the revolving door. The Dolphin was on Sixty-first Street, around the corner from Fifth Avenue; small but smart. A man and woman dressed in evening clothes passed Mike as he reached out and took Ostermeyer's hand, switching his small overnight case to his left hand in order to do it. The woman was blonde, dressed in black, of course, and the light, flowery smell of her perfume seemed to summarize New York. On the mezzanine level, someone was playing "Night and Day" in the bar, as if to underline the summary.

"Mr. Enslin. Good evening."

"Mr. Ostermeyer. Is there a problem?"

Ostermeyer looked pained. For a moment he glanced around the small, smart lobby, as if for help. At the concierge's stand, a man was discussing theater tickets with his wife while the concierge himself watched them with a small, patient smile. At the front desk, a man with the rumpled look one only got after long hours in Business Class was discussing his reservation with a woman in a smart black suit that could itself have doubled for evening wear. It was business as usual at the Hotel Dolphin. There was help for everyone except poor Mr. Ostermeyer, who had fallen into the writer's clutches.

"Mr. Ostermeyer?" Mike repeated, feeling a little sorry for the man.

"No," Ostermeyer said at last. "No problem. But, Mr. Enslin...could I speak to you for a moment in my office?"

So,Mike thought.He wants to try one more time.

Under other circumstances he might have been impatient. Now he was not. It would help the section on room 1408, offer the proper ominous tone the readers of his books seemed to crave -- it was to be One Final Warning -- but that wasn't all. Mike Enslin hadn't been sure until now, in spite of all the backing and filling; now he was. Ostermeyer wasn't playing a part. Ostermeyer was really afraid of room 1408, and what might happen to Mike there tonight.

"Of course, Mr. Ostermeyer. Should I leave my bag at the desk, or bring it?"

"Oh, we'll bring it along, shall we?" Ostermeyer, the good host, reached for it. Yes, he still held out some hope of persuading Mike not to stay in the room. Otherwise, he would have directed Mike to the desk...or taken it there himself. "Allow me."

"I'm fine with it," Mike said. "Nothing but a change of clothes and a toothbrush."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes," Mike said, holding his eyes. "I'm afraid I am."

For a moment Mike thought Ostermeyer was going to give up. He sighed, a little round man in a dark cutaway coat and a neatly knotted tie, and then he squared his shoulders again. "Very good, Mr. Enslin. Follow me."

The hotel manager had seemed tentative in the lobby, depressed, almost beaten. In his oak-paneled office, with the pictures of the hotel on the walls (the Dolphin had opened in October of 1910 -- Mike might publish without the benefit of reviews in the journals or the big-city papers, but he did his research), Ostermeyer seemed to gain assurance again. There was a Persian carpet on the floor. Two standing lamps cast a mild yellow light. A desk-lamp with a green lozenge-shaped shade stood on the desk, next to a humidor. And next to the humidor were Mike Enslin's last three books. Paperback editions, of course; there had been no hardbacks. Yet he did quite well.Mine host has been doing a little research of his own,Mike thought.

Mike sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk. He expected Ostermeyer to sit behind the desk, where he could draw authority from it, but Ostermeyer surprised him. He sat in the other chair on what he probably thought of as the employees' side of the desk, crossed his legs, then leaned forward over his tidy little belly to touch the humidor.

"Cigar, Mr. Enslin? They're not Cuban, but they're quite good."

"No, thank you. I don't smoke."

Ostermeyer's eyes shifted to the cigarette behind Mike's right ear -- parked there on a jaunty jut the way an oldtime wisecracking New York reporter might have parked his next smoke just below his fedora with the press tag stuck in the band. The cigarette had become so much a part of him that for a moment Mike honestly didn't know what Ostermeyer was looking at. Then he remembered, laughed, took it down, looked at it himself, then looked back at Ostermeyer.

"Haven't had a cigarette in nine years," he said. "I had an older brother who died of lung cancer. I quit shortly after he died. The cigarette behind the ear..." He shrugged. "Part affectation, part superstition, I guess. Kind of like the ones you sometimes see on people's desks or walls, mounted in a little box with a sign saying break glass in case of emergency. I sometimes tell people I'll light up in case of nuclear war. Is 1408 a smoking room, Mr. Ostermeyer? Just in case nuclear war breaks out?"

"As a matter of fact, it is."

"Well," Mike said heartily, "that's one less worry in the watches of the night."

Mr. Ostermeyer sighed again, unamused, but this one didn't have the disconsolate quality of his lobby-sigh. Yes, it was the room, Mike reckoned. His room. Even this afternoon, when Mike had come accompanied by Robertson, the lawyer, Ostermeyer had seemed less flustered once they were in here. At the time Mike had thought it was partly because they were no longer drawing stares from the passing public, partly because Ostermeyer had given up. Now he knew better. It was the room. And why not? It was a room with good pictures on the walls, a good rug on the floor, and good cigars -- although not Cuban -- in the humidor. A lot of managers had no doubt conducted a lot of business in here since October of 1910; in its own way it was as New York as the blonde woman in her black off-the-shoulder dress, her smell of perfume and her unarticulated promise of sleek sex in the small hours of the morning -- New York sex. Mike himself was from Omaha, although he hadn't been back there in a lot of years.

"You still don't think I can talk you out of this idea of yours, do you?" Ostermeyer asked.

"I know you can't," Mike said, replacing the cigarette behind his ear.

The reasons for the majority of the changes are self-evident; if you flip back and forth between the two versions, I'm confident that you'll understand almost all of them, and I'm hopeful that you'll see how raw the first-draft work of even a so-called "professional writer" is once you really examine it.

Most of the changes are cuts, intended to speed the story. I have cut with Strunk in mind -- "Omit needless words" -- and also to satisfy the formula stated earlier: 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10%.

I have keyed a few changes for brief explanation:

1. Obviously, "The Hotel Story" is never going to replace "Killdozer!" orNorma Jean, the Termite Queenas a title. I simply slotted it into the first draft, knowing a better one would occur as I went along. (If a better title doesn't occur, an editor will usually supply his or her idea of a better one, and the results are usually ugly.) I like "1408" because this is a "thirteenth floor" story, and the numbers add up to thirteen.

2. Ostermeyer is a long and gallumphing name. By changing it to Olin via global replace, I was able to shorten my story by about fifteen lines at a single stroke. Also, by the time I finished "1408," I had realized it was probably going to be part of an audio collection. I would read the stories myself, and didn't want to sit there in the little recording booth, saying Ostermeyer, Ostermeyer, Ostermeyer all day long. So I changed it.

3. I'm doing a lot of the reader's thinking for him here. Since most readers can think for themselves, I felt free to cut this from five lines to just two.

4. Too much stage direction, too much belaboring of the obvious, and too much clumsy back story. Out it goes.

5. Ah, here is the lucky Hawaiian shirt. It shows up in the first draft, but not until about page thirty. That's too late for an important prop, so I stuck it up front. There's an old rule of theater that goes, "If there's a gun on the mantel in Act I, it must go off in Act III." The reverse is also true; if the main character's lucky Hawaiian shirt plays a part at the end of a story, it must be introduced early. Otherwise it looks like adeus ex machina(which of course it is).

6. The first-draft copy reads "Mike sat down in one of the chairs in front of the desk." Well, duh -- where else is he going to sit? On the floor? I don't think so, and out it goes. Also out is the business of the Cuban cigars. This is not only trite, it's the sort of thing bad guys are always saying in bad movies. "Have a cigar! They're Cuban!" Fuhgeddaboudit!

7. The first- and second-draft ideas and basic information are the same, but in the second draft, things have been cut to the bone. And look! See that wretched adverb, that "shortly"? Stomped it, didn't I? No mercy!

8. And here's one I didn't cut...not just an adverb but a Swiftie: "Well," Mike said heartily...But I stand behind my choice not to cut in this case, would argue that it's the exception which proves the rule. "Heartily" has been allowed to stand because I want the reader to understand that Mike is making fun of poor Mr. Olin. Just a little, but yes, he's making fun.

9. This passage not only belabors the obvious but repeats it. Out it goes. The concept of a person's feeling comfortable in one's own special place, however, seemed to clarify Olin's character, and so I added it.

I toyed with the idea of including the entire finished text of "1408" in this book, but the idea ran counter to my determination to be brief, for once in my life. If you would like to listen to the entire thing, it's available as part of a three-story audio collection,Blood and Smoke.You may access a sample on the Simon and Schuster Web site, http://www.SimonSays.com. And remember, for our purposes here, you don't need to finish the story. This is about engine maintenance, not joyriding.

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen King

And Furthermore, Part II: A Booklist

When I talk about writing, I usually offer my audiences an abbreviated version of the "On Writing" section which forms the second half of this book. That includes the Prime Rule, of course: Write a lot and read a lot. In the Q-and-A period which follows, someone invariably asks: "What doyouread?"

I've never given a very satisfactory answer to that question, because it causes a kind of circuit overload in my brain. The easy answer -- "Everything I can get my hands on" -- is true enough, but not helpful. The list that follows provides a more specific answer to that question. These are the best books I've read over the last three or four years, the period during which I wroteThe Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Hearts in Atlantis, On Writing,and the as-yet-unpublishedFrom a Buick Eight.In some way or other, I suspect each book in the list had an influence on the books I wrote.

As you scan this list, please remember that I'm not Oprah and this isn't my book club. These are the ones that worked for me, that's all. But you could do worse, and a good many of these might show you some new ways of doing your work. Even if they don't, they're apt to entertain you. They certainly entertained me.

Abrahams, Peter:A Perfect Crime

Abrahams, Peter:Lights Out

Abrahams, Peter:Pressure Drop

Abrahams, Peter:Revolution #9

Agee, James:A Death in the Family

Bakis, Kirsten:Lives of the Monster Dogs

Barker, Pat:Regeneration

Barker, Pat:The Eye in the Door

Barker, Pat:The Ghost Road

Bausch, Richard:In the Night Season

Blauner, Peter:The Intruder

Bowles, Paul:The Sheltering Sky

Boyle, T. Coraghessan:The Tortilla Curtain

Bryson, Bill:A Walk in the Woods

Buckley, Christopher:Thank You for Smoking

Carver, Raymond:Where I'm Calling From

Chabon, Michael:Werewolves in Their Youth

Chorlton, Windsor:Latitude Zero

Connelly, Michael:The Poet

Conrad, Joseph:Heart of Darkness

Constantine, K. C.:Family Values

DeLillo, Don:Underworld

DeMille, Nelson:Cathedral

DeMille, Nelson:The Gold Coast

Dickens, Charles:Oliver Twist

Dobyns, Stephen:Common Carnage

Dobyns, Stephen:The Church of Dead Girls

Doyle, Roddy:The Woman Who Walked into Doors

Elkin, Stanley:The Dick Gibson Show

Faulkner, William:As I Lay Dying

Garland, Alex:The Beach

George, Elizabeth:Deception on His Mind

Gerritsen, Tess:Gravity

Golding, William:Lord of the Flies

Gray, Muriel:Furnace

Greene, Graham:A Gun for Sale (aka This Gun for Hire)

Greene, Graham:Our Man in Havana

Halberstam, David:The Fifties

Hamill, Pete:Why Sinatra Matters

Harris, Thomas:Hannibal

Haruf, Kent:Plainsong

Hoeg, Peter:Smilla's Sense of Snow

Hunter, Stephen:Dirty White Boys

Ignatius, David:A Firing Offense

Irving, John:A Widow for One Year

Joyce, Graham:The Tooth Fairy

Judd, Alan:The Devil's Own Work

Kahn, Roger:Good Enough to Dream

Karr, Mary:The Liars' Club

Ketchum, Jack:Right to Life

King, Tabitha:Survivor

King, Tabitha:The Sky in the Water (unpublished)

Kingsolver, Barbara:The Poisonwood Bible

Krakauer, Jon:Into Thin Air

Lee, Harper:To Kill a Mockingbird

Lefkowitz, Bernard:Our Guys

Little, Bentley:The Ignored

Maclean, Norman:A River Runs Through It and Other Stories

Maugham, W. Somerset:The Moon and Sixpence

McCarthy, Cormac:Cities of the Plain

McCarthy, Cormac:The Crossing

McCourt, Frank:Angela's Ashes

McDermott, Alice:Charming Billy

McDevitt, Jack:Ancient Shores

McEwan, Ian:Enduring Love

McEwan, Ian:The Cement Garden

McMurtry, Larry:Dead Man's Walk

McMurtry, Larry, and Diana Ossana:Zeke and Ned

Miller, Walter M.:A Canticle for Leibowitz

Oates, Joyce Carol:Zombie

O'Brien, Tim:In the Lake of the Woods

O'Nan, Stewart:The Speed Queen

Ondaatje, Michael:The English Patient

Patterson, Richard North:No Safe Place

Price, Richard:Freedomland

Proulx, Annie:Close Range:Wyoming Stories

Proulx, Annie:The Shipping News

Quindlen, Anna:One True Thing

Rendell, Ruth:A Sight for Sore Eyes

Robinson, Frank M.:Waiting

Rowling, J. K.:Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Rowling, J. K.:Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban

Rowling, J. K.:Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

Russo, Richard:Mohawk

Schwartz, John Burnham:Reservation Road

Seth, Vikram:A Suitable Boy

Shaw, Irwin:The Young Lions

Slotkin, Richard:The Crater

Smith, Dinitia:The Illusionist

Spencer, Scott:Men in Black

Stegner, Wallace:Joe Hill

Tartt, Donna:The Secret History

Tyler, Anne:A Patchwork Planet

Vonnegut, Kurt:Hocus Pocus

Waugh, Evelyn:Brideshead Revisited

Westlake, Donald E.:The Ax

Copyright © 2000 by Stephen King



Excerpted from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
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