Stephen King is famous first and foremost as the author of more than 50 published novels, many of which are considered modern horror classics, or simply classics. In recent years, he’s also become known among both aspiring and published authors as a source for writing advice; his book On Writing is frequently name-checked as a bible of sorts for those who want to do what King does so well.
King is also famous for being a master of the short story form. His newest collection, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, combines his fiction with his fantastic insights on writing, pairing 20 stories with commentary from author himself on the inspiration and creation of each. The book is perfect not just for anyone who enjoys a well-written short story, but for anyone seeking insight into how a modern master approaches writing. Here’s why this book is so special.
It makes fantastical ideas seem real
One of King’s strengths has always been his ability to marry high-concept ideas with convincing executions. With his writerly skill and gift for the telling detail, King makes even the most unbelievable concepts seem real. Take a story like “Ur,” which explores an e-reader that displays books from all possible realities, allowing you to read, say, the novels Raymond Carver would have written in his 50s and 60s. King makes the idea sing with keen observation, beautiful language, and a grasp on how a real person would react to such a discovery.
It’s grounded in reality
King’s evergreen appeal can be partially explained by his grounded approach to storytelling: no matter how fantastic or incredible his monsters, his scenarios, or his devices and artifacts, he anchors them in a world we know. Despite having spent several decades now as a very rich, very famous person, King hasn’t lost his touch for the everyday. The stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams explore the tensions and resentments inherent in modern suburban life, and the power in the bonds between a husband and wife, or a man and his dog. These simple, universal themes are what make King’s fantastic ideas so powerful—and what has allowed him to grow beyond the “horror” label.
It shows his range
King has long shown he’s adept at writing stories that have no fantastic elements at all, and several of them are included here. “Premium Harmony,” originally published in the New Yorker, has an oppressive and spooky atmosphere, but the story is an exploration of one man’s selfish, solipsistic interior monologue as a shopping trip between two bickering spouses turns into tragedy. In “A Death,” which also appeared in the New Yorker, King tells a 19th-century mystery tale about a man accused of murdering a young girl for a silver dollar she received for her birthday, exploring the difference between knowing someone must be guilty of a crime, and proving he did so. While there is a (powerful) twist to the story, there’s nothing supernatural about it.
It includes masterful advice
Each story in the collection is preceded by thoughts from King on some aspect of the story’s inspiration or execution. This means the collection doubles as a sequel of sorts to On Writing, in which King walks us through his conception of his short stories and how he writes them. His thoughts in these sections aren’t necessarily formal lessons; he discusses his personal life and the mundane details of home and work as much as he discusses writing, and his advice is often more spiritual than technical. But each authorial note offers a glimpse into one of the most famous creative minds of our time. Knowing a certain story was inspired by the language King wanted to use, or learning how he views the writerly voice as a kind of “fingerprint” that firms up over time into something consistently recognizable will inspire a whole new generation of authors to keep at it.