Feed Your Hungers, and Your Hungers Will Feed You

Steven Barnes
7 min readAug 9, 2019

Listening to an anthology of Stephen King short stories THE BIZARRE OF BAD DREAMS. The thing I like best is that between the stories, he talks about their inspiration. He speaks of the stories like spoons, with the inspiration/twist being the “bowl” of the spoon, but the character’s life and world prior to that twist being the “handle”.

THAT was a little light going on. I can really see that — the care he puts into creating the life of a character before he yanks reality out from under them. Anyway, he spoke of being driven to an author event in Paris, and passing a bus, going the other way. And from the back of his limo, he met the eyes of a young woman probably going home after a day’s work. He wished HE was going home. And hazarded that she wished she was going to a glamorous event. That just for a moment, they peered into each others’ lives. Then of course the vehicles continued on, and that was that.

Except that that sense, that FEELING became the core of a story he wrote in a single burst. He created a “handle” (an advertising man rushing to a pitch meeting in horrible NY traffic) and a “bowl” at the end of it (he has a connection with a lovely girl in a bus going the other way — then watches her murdered) and the rest is his wrestling with his own need to get to that pitch meeting, as opposed to calling the cops.

Nasty little moral fable. Reminded me of Harlan Ellison’s “The Whimper Of Whipped Dogs”, triggered by the notorious Kitty Genovese murder.

Impulse. Entry. Kaboom.

Because King’s core skills are at a place deeper than ordinary “unconscious competence” his physical energy (hours of reading and writing a day), intellect (plot, character, thematics, poetics, etc), and emotions (original impulse) are all aligned. Beautifully. He can take any life event, flip and exaggerate it, find a “handle” into it, and create art.

THAT is mastery. I saw that with Jordan Peele — he can pause at ANY point in a discourse and make it hysterical. Dave Chappell demonstrates similar mastery in his recent Netflix special. (His “so I kicked her…” routine is so brilliant I’m not sure if most people even realize the level of magic he is displaying).

I don’t know if King can make pancakes, or plant a garden, or dance a polka. But at THIS thing, he is absolutely world-class. Has focused his time and energy and intellect and emotion until he can do ONE THING so well that…

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Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts. www.lifewritingpodcast.com.