‘The Next Stephen King’ and Other Comparisons

Before I read John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Harbor last week, I noticed that four of the eight review quotes on the back cover compared Lindqvist to the great Stephen King. Hmm…how derivative was this Scandinavian guy, anyway?

Actually, the excellent Harbor turned out to be quite original. It was obviously in the horror genre, but with a wintry, in-Sweden twist. Other differences from King, too. It all reminded me of…John Ajvide Lindqvist. With a touch of Peter Hoeg (Smilla’s Sense of Snow).

Yet I understand the reviewer shorthand of author comparisons. Some people — for better or for worse — want writers placed in a certain literary style or genre before deciding whether to read them. And many book publishers categorize authors in marketing campaigns.

Of course, comparisons to other authors might be dead-on, or barely an approximation. Also, some writers welcome being put in the company of a famous earlier author or novel, while others may feel such a comparison is a slur on their originality or even a near-plagiarism charge. But, heck, no writer or fictional work is completely unique.

Examples of other authors who’ve been compared to earlier authors? Let me count the names. To remain in the horror category for a minute, H.P. Lovecraft was definitely influenced by Edgar Allan Poe.

In more “general” literature, John Irving has been mentioned in the same sentence as Dickens for sprawling, seriocomic works such as The Cider House Rules and A Prayer for Owen Meany. Donna Tartt’s multifaceted The Goldfinch, Eleanor Catton’s sweeping The Luminaries, and Jonathan Franzen’s wide-ranging Freedom have also moved some reviewers to name-check Charles D.

When Isabel Allende came out with The House of the Spirits, many reviewers and readers were reminded of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. And the comparison is somewhat apt, though Allende put her own stamp on magic realism and multigenerational storytelling — such as concentrating more on the female characters.

Then of course there’s Cormac McCarthy following in the footsteps of William Faulkner with almost-biblical prose depicting the lives of often flawed, unhappy, eccentric, far-from-affluent people. “Southern Gothic” and all that.

Speaking of the American South, True Grit author Charles Portis’ funnier novels (such as Norwood) are reminiscent of Erskine Caldwell’s comedic classics Tobacco Road and God’s Little Acre.

In the “modernist” area, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway takes some inspiration from James Joyce’s Ulysses.

And A.S. Byatt — especially with her intricate masterpiece Possession — has been compared to the incomparable George Eliot.

Of course, finding a resemblance between authors can often be too facile an endeavor — especially when describing female and African-American writers. For instance, Barbara Kingsolver kind of echoes Margaret Atwood in penning fiction that’s feminist and political yet more character-driven than polemical, but their writing styles are really not alike. And the works of African-American writers such as Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker have as many — or more — differences than similarities.

Who are some specific authors who can be compared to earlier specific authors?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m almost finished writing a book called Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Writers, but am still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as “Dear Abby” and Ann Landers, and other notables such as Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

60 thoughts on “‘The Next Stephen King’ and Other Comparisons

  1. Genre writers, I think, get this sort of treatment most, as in John D. McDonald or Ross Macdonald is ‘the new Raymond Chandler’. Not entirely unfair, but there’s more to each (including non-improvements) that differs from the original than this formulation lets on.

    Sometimes authors come to fame within their genre by writing new material very consciously made to read like those of deceased writers, so as to lengthen sales life when death has taken the producer– August Darleith wrote new Lovecraftian stuff this way. In such cases, ‘the next’ is really hoping to be accepted, more or less, as ‘the same.’ Imitation is the sincerest form of factory.

    From what I’ve happened to read around the interwebs, the ‘next Jane Austen’ is up to her neck in zombies. If this begins a trend, I can only think that the new Charlotte Bronte will have cause to utter “Reader, I buried him!”

    Can ‘Withering Haints’ be far behind?

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    • Wonderful wordplay — especially “imitation is the sincerest form of factory.” Nice!

      I see what you’re saying about genre writers. And, yes, some authors are happy to almost mimic famous authors. Sort of like cartoonists who take over a famous comic when the originator dies and learn to draw the strip in a nearly identical way.

      As for the writers leeching off of the iconic Jane Austen, I’m proud to say I’ve never read, and never had the desire to read, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” That leeching is…dead to me.

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      • That stuff about genre writers is even more common among musicians. Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, T-Bone Walker, BB King, Albert King: each has legions of imitators, some of whom cannot play much of anything unless their model played it first.

        Liked by 1 person

      • A few years ago I was in a comic book shop and saw “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. The owner of the shop told me that he’d read it one sitting, couldn’t put it down, was the funniest thing he’d ever read. He didn’t strike me as much of a reader, so I thought the book must have something going for it if it had this kind of impact on him. So I bought it, expecting some kind of spoof story. But what I got was “P&P” but with Zombies. The “P&P” part was very Austenesque, which I just find a waste of time. Austen already wrote the perfect love story, so why not read that instead?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The topic is odious, according to John Lydgate, but nonetheless, I slog on.

    Reminds me of a Mad Magazine bit from daze of yore, which I approximate roughly below:

    1.Who’s Peggy Smith?
    2.Presenting Peggy Smith
    3. America’s Newest Hitmaker, Peggy Smith
    5. Peggy’s In Love
    4. Peggy Goes Latin
    5. Peggy’s Golden Hits
    5. Here’s Ann Brown, the new Peggy Smith
    6. Who’s Peggy Smith?

    btw, I seem to have earned a new colorful medallion here on site (where my pic might go, had I but sent on in), replacing a sort of olive drab thingy with this more alpine thingy. Wonder why…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Love that Peggy Smith career arc, jhNY! Thanks for posting an approximation of it from memory!

      Mad magazine has had some amazing humor. I was lucky to have met a few of its contributors over the years when covering cartoon conventions — including Mort Drucker (a truly nice guy), Al Jaffee (of fold-in fame), and the recently deceased Jack Davis (very courtly Southerner).

      No idea about the medallion. Must be some WordPress tweak; I don’t have control over things like that. 🙂

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      • Had a subscription when i was 10-11– 1961, 62. My fave was Don Martin, though I was also a huge fan of Kelly Freas’ classic covers. Had not puberty beckoned, there’s no telling how many years I might have read it!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Heck, virtually all the Mad contributors were great.

          I never had a subscription, but did buy a number of single copies in my younger days. Can still remember some content decades later, including a spoof of “Marcus Welby” (the TV show starring a fictional doctor). The spoof title, of course: “Makeus Sickby.”

          Like

      • I actually drew a picture of myself which I could use, and it’s been scanned– but I confess, as a computer dunce,I have no idea how I’d go about it– or using any other sort of picture rather than whatever medallion they dish out here.

        ……I don’t even know what an avi picture is.

        Yes, my landline phone (I own no other), being newish (10 years old?), has electronic features like voice mail, and time and date of call– yet any call received, thanks to my ignorance and my loss of the accompanying service manual, is time-stamped Wednesday, 12 PM. Every darn one, every darn time.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Actually I am there with you but the other place i post, Jack`s he had instructions.
          Try gravatar.com and go from there. I was foolish enough to use my (of-course Photoshoped) picture in HP. Not anymore.
          my land-phone I wish I did not have..receive 5-10 useless phone-calls which I never answer or scream at them. I have a blackberry which is almost obsolete only to make things easy to make international calls since my relatives are all over.

          So you are not missing a thing..those nonsense are a wastage of time .
          I see my neighbors or folks at the grocers even crossing the street texting or something. Other day my 6-7 year old neighbors kid had her phone pointing at me obviously snapping my photo.
          What a scary world we live in.
          Just look at Donald Trump..oh my….

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave I have not read any Stephan King books purposely stayed away from horror books and they are all so big. Can`t think of any similar writings of ones that I have read to others. But there are mimics of ” Darcy” books by modern day authors to see more of it.

    There is “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” by David Lagercrantz to continue the millennium series has some good reviews but I have not read that yet.
    After the death of Tom Clancy several authors are continuing to write in his name , I do not know if they are from some unfinished manuscript.

    James Patterson hardly writes but delegates several authors to write books with his name on them have not read any. Used to love his books when he wrote those himself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe! I think I’ve read about 15 Stephen King books — some very shocking horror (such as “Misery”), some lower-key horror (such as “From a Buick 8”), and some not horror. Almost all excellent.

      Yes, definitely a number of authors mimicking Jane Austen or in some other way relating their work to her.

      I just can’t bear to read another author continuing Stieg Larsson’s terrific “Millennium” series. Also not a big fan of the idea of James Patterson’s writing “factory,” but it’s certainly successful! I tried just one Patterson novel a couple years ago (forgot the name), and abandoned it after a few chapters. I must have picked the wrong one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh Dave I have seen the equally famous movie ” misery ” but as you say I can not read any after Larsson’s triology . Now on Patterson he is making. Lot of $$$ just having book writing factory a factory. I would like to know if he is a Trump supporter but I know well mr. King is not and spoke up against that and I respect him for speaking out and not worry about his book sales.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Bebe, if you’re interested in trying Stephen King, it’s definitely not all horror. “Insomnia” is one of my faves of his, and it’s actually quite beautiful. But at 800 pages, it might be a bit much for a first timer. I also really enjoyed “Gerald’s Game”. It’s only 400 pages, but definitely does have some horror in it. If neither of those appeals to you, you could try his short stories? “Night Shift” is an amazing collection. Or you could try “The Bachman Books”. Four novellas written under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. Or, if you’ve never read Stephen King because you don’t want to, feel free to ignore everything I said 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • Susan thank you for your suggestions..to think of it I have seen the movie “Insomnia”, long ago don`t remember exactly the story line which is good in case I read the book. King is a very popular writer, his books are so big that was another turn off for me. But I certainly look for the short stories and the novellas , a great way to start.
        Funny I am a bit insomniac as well last night i woke up fully alert at 3:30 AM , then the monkey mind started and could not shut myself off…
        Thanks again 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh Bebe, with my depression, I’m sometimes awake at 3 or 4 am. I feel exhausted, but am simply unable to sleep. It’s awful 😦

          I vaguely remember being excited about a movie called “Insomnia” but then realised that it wasn’t based on the book.

          I also should have mentioned “The Stand”. It’s another 800 pager, but I personally think it’s a great example of King’s brilliance. If you don’t fall in love with his writing 200 pages in, then you probably never will.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Sorry Susan some of us has to go through sleepless nights…when I wake up I am fully awake that is the problem. There are times breathing helps and yes after I end up tired 😦

            Thanks for recommending the books, Mr. King is outspoken and visible and I do like listening to him.

            Currently I have a few books in my hand..one is Cold Blood by Capote , another non fiction about a donkey ” Flash”..certainly i will take up on your recommendations Susan.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, tossing and turning is very different than being wide awake wandering around the house.

              I love that you have stayed away from the horror genre, but you’re ok with real life murders. I think I prefer murder in novels to be more fanciful. The more vampires, the better 🙂

              Liked by 2 people

              • Oh no Susan I am not okay with real life murders..I have only gone through 2 pages and set it aside. We lived in KS for 30 years and just recently I discovered how good Capote`s writing was.
                No I don`t wonder around the house but toss and turn some of those nights…
                But you made a point on vampires ..now I must look for Mr. Kings novels and when I read I will let you know 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  4. Dave, it never fails to amaze me that you so often write essays that exactly describe the way I feel about the book I’m currently reading. This week it’s “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” which has so far been an absolute delight to read. It’s not a completely straightforward book, and I think it would be hard to describe or categorise, however the other day I thought it had just the tiniest bit of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” about it. There was no reason to think this; it’s certainly not magical realism. And then I googled Louis de Bernières and found that he calls himself a “Márquez parasite”. I’m still not sure why I made the connection, but it was great that wikipedia confirmed that it was there 🙂

    Generally speaking, I don’t really care for categorising authors or novels, but it can be kind of fun and interesting at times. As a fan of Stephen King, I think his novels are so different from each other that it would be hard to explain what King’s style is, let alone compare it to something else.

    “Of course, finding a resemblance between authors can often be too facile an endeavor”. Dave, it makes me laugh to think that my comparison of Steinbeck to James (E.L. not Henry) a couple of weeks ago may have inspired this, though I’m sure that’s not the case!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Susan!

      Among your excellent points was how some authors’ writing (such as Stephen King’s) is varied enough that it’s hard to categorize even that single author, much less compare that author to others. King definitely writes in all kinds of ways (horror is only one of his genres). Margaret Atwood has authored contemporary fiction, speculative fiction, historical fiction, lighter fiction, etc. John Steinbeck, who you mentioned, penned everything from poignant epics (“The Grapes of Wrath”) to very funny slice-of-life novels (“Cannery Row”). To offer a few examples.

      I was NOT thinking of your Steinbeck-James (E.L. not Henry) — ha ha! — comparison when I came up with that “facile” line!

      And “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” is now on my to-read list, which, in its endlessness, I compare to the U.S. presidential campaign… 🙂

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      • When I first read this, I mistakenly thought you were calling “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” endless. At 400ish pages, it’s not short, but it’s not really long, let alone endless. It is set in multiple places so it feels kind of geographically large, but again, not endless, which is kind of unfortunate. The writing is so beautiful that I’m not looking forward to reaching the end 😦

        But then I read your actual comment, and I feel so honoured that I can add to your endless list. 🙂 I’m glad that you’ve enjoyed the novels that I’ve previously recommended enough to keep trusting me. I’m curious though about how much research you do on a book before you add it?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Actually, my comment could be read both ways, Susan. Not totally clear writing on my part. 🙂

          I do little or no research before adding a book to my list. If a commenter here recommends it, it’s on! I might glance at a Wikipedia or Amazon summary of the book, but only briefly. Then, if the book is there when I go to the library, I might glance at the inside-cover summary. But I DO trust the commenters here. I’ve almost never been given a recommendation I didn’t love or at least like a lot. I’m grateful to have read so many novels and authors I might otherwise never have known about!

          Like

          • Wow, Dave. That IS very trusting! And I’m glad to hear that there haven’t been many duds. I love going into a book knowing very little about it. I generally avoid blurbs and summaries and reviews until after I’ve read a book. Sometimes when I love a book, but have to put it down, I might cheat and read the blurb or about the author, just so I’m not putting the book down, but I’m not really reading, I’m getting up to put the washing on. Honest I am. Well, ok, maybe one more chapter 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ha — annoying to leave a great book to do the wash or other chores.

              I hear you, Susan — not previously knowing a lot about a novel that turns out to be wonderful can make the reading so fun, revelatory, etc.

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  5. Interesting comparisons. I really don’t go in for comparisons. The ones that I’m most familiar with are Hurston, Morrison and Walker. While their stories have similar themes in that they show African-American struggles against a dominant white society, each of them gives us an inside view of her own particular A-A community. Additionally, their voices and language choices are much different. I would contrast, rather than compare, Their Eyes Were Watching God to Beloved to The Color Purple. sd

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, energywriter!

      Very true about the work of Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Their writing definitely has some similarities — as the characters deal with racism, sexism, keeping their heads above financial water, etc. But, as you say, those authors’ writing content and style are very different from each other’s, too. Yes, “contrast” is a good word.

      BTW, as you might know, Walker played a big role in rescuing Hurston from posthumous obscurity with a Ms. Magazine story in the 1970s. I also read that Walker found Hurston’s gravesite in Florida and arranged to have a new marker placed there.

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  6. Hi Dave, my comment isn’t quite what you’re asking about, but I’ve noticed that there are many blurbs on books or in reviews that will reference other very popular books. Most notable of all that I’ve seen is the “If you enjoyed ‘Gone Girl’ then you will enjoy ‘The Girl on the Train’ or you will love ‘The Silent Wife’ or …” and many others that I can’t remember off the top of my head. This is a marketing ploy, I’m sure, but it does work, as I’ll be more likely to buy a book that compares it to another book that I really liked. This is probably also true of what Stieg Larsson and his Millennium trilogy did for Scandinavian mysteries, as there are so many writers now, e.g. Camilla Lackberg, Jo Nesbo, etc. I think Henning Mankell, who was well known for his Kurt Wallender series, proceeded Larsson, but I’m sure it helped his own sales after the Trilogy was published. They also reprinted the entire Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collectively known as “The Story of a Crime.” I read this series back in the early 70’s (?), but enjoyed buying the whole set within the last six years or so and rereading them. I must say that they are much tamer than Larsson’s novels (not hard to do 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • “This is a marketing ploy, I’m sure, but it does work…” — you’re right about that, Kat Lib. While annoying in a way, that ploy has also led me to read certain novels I’ve liked a lot.

      And very true about Stieg Larsson’s impact on other Scandinavian mysteries/thrillers. Another legacy that died-too-young author left in addition to his riveting trilogy itself. (I still can’t bring myself to read the fourth “Millennium” book by a different author.) And, yes, Larsson’s trilogy is far from tame, but it’s an example of books with lots of violence and sex and corruption in which those three things seem appropriately depicted.

      Thank you for the comment!

      Like

  7. Howdy, Dave!

    — Which authors do you think can be compared to earlier authors? —

    All of them. But, of course, comparisons are odious, as observed sniffingly by the title character of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra’s “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha” in a passage redolent of Homer’s “The Odyssey,” albeit without Dawn spreading her rosy fingers all over the place.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! So true, J.J. Every author can be compared to an earlier author in some way. After seeing your comment, I changed my column-ending question a bit. 🙂

      Loved your Cervantes/Homer paragraph!

      BTW, the relationship between Don Quixote and Sancho Panza (the servant in certain ways being smarter and more practical than “the boss”) was definitely a model for many subsequent pairings in lit: Frodo and Sam in “The Lord of the Rings,” Bertie Wooster and Jeeves in P.G. Wodehouse’s work, etc.

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      • — After seeing your comment, I changed my column-ending question a bit. —

        OK, then I will change my answer a bit, too. A comparison of the modi operandi of three of the most engaging storytellers of all time — the English Charles Dickens (1812-1870), the American Mark Twain (1835-1910) and the Polish Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916) — indicates their best works of art were greatly enhanced by the cliffhanger demands of commerce as embodied in the plot requirements of serialization. The characters and settings of any one of these writers may sharply contrast with those of the other two, but the plots of all three commonly, deftly and naturally lead their readers to wonder: And then what happened?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Excellent mini-essay, J.J., on how serialization affected the content of novels by certain authors! The cliffhangers, etc. Plus sometimes reader reaction to earlier chapters caused authors to shift the plot in later chapters — one of the most famous examples being Dickens sending the titular “Martin Chuzzlewit” character to America when the serialized novel was not selling as well as Dickens’ earlier books.

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  8. Very interesting post, Dave! It seems I’m often reading these right after I get off work and my brain is too tired – (that’s what I want to believe anyway, lol) – to contribute anything worthwhile. I’m definitely interested in reading “Harbor”. I love a good scary story!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Pat!

      Speaking of comparisons, I know what you mean about having a too-tired brain. 🙂

      I guess I’d give “Harbor” four or four-and-a-half stars out of five. By no means the best spooky novel I’ve ever read, but it’s very unusual — and compelling for the most part. It includes a rather memorable insect…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Cathy! Much of the horror in “Harbor” is on the subtle side (with a few exceptions). It is indeed very spooky — people disappearing, some coming back as ghosts of a sort, etc.

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  9. Wonderful post. I read somewhere that Garcia-Marquez went to Mississippi River and opined about the waters flowing through Falkner to himself. Which is interesting because from Garcia-Marquez we get Allende. It is a nuanced argument but there is a lineage there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Sudden Denouement! Quite an eloquent comment from Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Funny — I didn’t think of Faulkner when I read the three GGM books I’ve read (“One Hundred Years of Solitude,” “Love in the Time of Cholera,” and “Chronicle of a Death Foretold”), but, now that you mention it, I can see some connections. And, as you say, the baton of inspiration is then handed off to the next generation (GGM to Isabel Allende).

      Like

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