The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.
–The Gunslinger by Stephen King
That may be the best opening line of a modern novel. Brilliant, succinct, and sets the tone of an entire epic series.
When asked who my favorite author is, I have really no trouble identifying Stephen King. I’ve read very nearly everything he’s ever written. He’s a fantastic story teller with an inspiring ability to turn a phrase.
Coming up with my second favorite is a challenge, however. I have so many authors I enjoy, but according to my Kindle purchase records, JD Robb has got to be a contender for that second place spot.
With both Robb and King, I will buy a new book as soon as it comes out. Most often it’s been pre-ordered for months before it comes out. I will devour the books.
However, JD Robb is consistent. She’s like a machine pumping out a new novel every six months. I have enjoyed reading every single one of her over 50 “In Death” novels. They are entertaining and easy reads, every time, if more than a little formulaic. As a side note, yes, I do know she’s really Nora Roberts and no, I don’t enjoy reading Nora Roberts. No, I don’t think that makes sense either.
Stephen King, on the other hand, experiments. It’s one of the things I love about him – he’s always trying something new. There was the serialized Green Mile. There was a story released only in e-book format just as e-books and readers were establishing themselves. There was the Richard Bachman novels. There was the “Desperation” and “The Regulators” experiment where he released two books at the same time that were completely different but used the same characters. Besides the horror for which he’s known, he’s written fantasy, pulp, and literary. He is arguably the best short story writer currently writing.
But, he lacks consistency. Part of the risk of experimenting is that sometimes your experiments fail. And Stephen King has put out some crap. He’s also put out some pure, gleaming gold.
He can turn a phrase so good it makes me stop reading to just appreciate it. In the book I’m currently reading, “Finders Keepers,” a character is thinking of his mother. “He saw her smile. Thin as a hook, that smile.” I read that line and just had to pause and admire the artistry of it. What it said about both characters – the son and the mother. In just a few words you know they don’t have a good relationship. By describing the smile with something dangerous like a hook (it could as easily have read “thin as a thread,” for instance), you know that their interactions were sometimes hurtful. And for a son to describe his mother’s smile negatively, you get the feeling she wasn’t terribly nurturing or loving. In six little words: “Thin as a hook, that smile,” he described an entire relationship. Brilliant.
But let me tell you one more thing about Stephen King: Even the stuff I don’t like? I remember. Like Robb, he’s written over 50 books. And I remember every one. Maybe not in exact detail, but I remember them. Dreamcatcher, Tommyknockers, Insomnia – to name a few – are books of his I did not enjoy reading, but I remember vividly.
JD Robb, who consistently puts out two books a year I enjoy reading, has not put out a single book I remember. I frequently encounter references to previous books in her stories and find myself perplexed that I have no real idea what she’s talking about because I know I’ve read all of her books.
Stephen King has made me laugh and cry, made me nervous to hear people coughing or sneezing, fear clowns, and, on one memorable occasion, scream and throw a book across a room. JD Robb has consistently entertained me.
If I have a point, it’s this: As an aspiring writer, which would I prefer? Consistency or impact? I think, if I had to chose, I would want to be remembered.
If you’ve never read either author, give them a try. Grab “Naked in Death” by JD Robb. Give King’s “The Green Mile” a read. No one doesn’t like The Green Mile!