I’ve read a book by a guy named Brian Keene, and on the back cover he was heralded as “the new Stephen King”. Or was it “the next Stephen King”? Whichever. The point is, this author is being held up to Stephen King as a successor.
I found that sort of interesting. I’d think, in order for him to be the successor to King, King would have to be either retired or dead. Instead, he’s still actively writing and doing book promotional things. His website has a lively forum, in which he seldom if ever participates, but still, it’s lively. He has a weekly newsletter. He still does interviews for the media. Heck, a few years ago he even did a couple of spots for ESPN.
That doesn’t much sound like a guy who’s calling it a career, or a life for that matter. So, how can there be a “next” or “new” one if he’s still out there doing what Stephen King does?
I’ll admit, I was skeptical at the title. The implication is, I think, Mr. Keene’s work is horror fiction on the order of Stephen King’s work. At least, Stephen King’s early works, which set the tone and tenor for the genre in the mid-70s and forward. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement. I don’t intend to bash Mr. Keene’s work here; I’m sure he writes just fine and someone thought enough of his work to compare him to what many consider the master of the horror genre. I disagree, but that’s an opinion.
I started to wonder, though, what it would be like to be compared to an icon. How would one live up to that standard? How can you be “the next Stephen King” and not disappoint those loyalists who have adored every jot and tittle which dropped from King’s keyboard? How would you ever measure up to a man who can write 2000 words a day and thinks 180K words is a “goodish” book length?
The idea of being the “next” anything also carries with it some ramifications. Does that leave one room to be oneself? Can you be the next Stephen King and still be you? How does one who writes with one’s own voice become compared to someone else?
I write with standards in mind. Some of you might think my standards lax and unacceptable. Others find my standards harsh and demanding. But I write to try and improve, to strive for betterment with every piece, with every work. In my mind, I am not the equal in prose mastery of a Stephen King, but when I am, I’m not sure I want to be considered “the new” or “the next” Stephen King. I’d like to be considered the only me, and valued and appreciated (or scorned and hated) for who I am as a writer.
I don’t think Brian Keene writes as well as Stephen King. I wouldn’t consider him the successor to that throne. I don’t know if anyone ever will be, the same way there will never be a “new” H. P. Lovecraft, or Edgar Allan Poe, or Bram Stoker, or Mary Shelley. I think each of us, as artist, creators, or just individuals, wants to achieve greatness in what we do without having to mimic the path and parcel of someone else. While I’d love to have King’s talent, ability, notoriety, distribution and most of all, MONEY, I don’t know if I want to be “the next Stephen King”. As much as I admire the man, I’d like to be in his league as myself, my own person, and free to write what I want to write in my way, whichever way that ends up being.
How about you? Do you know of someone who’s “the new” or “the next”? Is it you, maybe? Does that label help or hurt?
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