or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Reference Question of the Week – 6/2/13

   June 8th, 2013

Stephen King with Red Sox World Series trophyI'm not exactly sure why this question stuck out in my mind this week, but it did.

One of our regular patrons is a man with special needs who LOVES horror stories, superheros, movies, television, and reading. He's either in the library or calls every day, and generally all of his questions revolve around the above topics. So, it was slightly unusual one day when he called and asked,

Can you find me Stephen King's email address? I thought of a horror story about the Red Sox I want to tell him so he can write a story about it.

A perfectly reasonable request, and I actually became a little curious about what kind of horror could involve a baseball team.

Generally for these kind of celebrity-contact questions, I always turn to our copy of The Celebrity Black Book, but since I was on the phone I just did a web search.

StephenKing.com was rightly the first search result, and I clicked into the Contact Us form to see if it had an option for submitting story ideas. Not too surprisingly, the form made it clear that it did not go to Stephen King. Then I noticed an FAQ link in the site's navigation bar, so I tried that.

One FAQ was "What is your email address?" which, again, was unsurprising in that it said Stephen King has no public email address (but did refer people to the message boards, which he does apparently follow).

A little lower on the page was the question, "Do you accept story ideas," which was answered,

No, I don't. I really have enough story ideas of my own. Every now and then somebody will advance a concept the way that my foreign rights agent, Ralph Vicinanza suggested wouldn't it be fun to do a modern-day serial story. The result of that was The Green Mile which was published in installments-these little paperback books--but he never suggested what sort of story I might have written in installments and I wouldn't have accepted it if he had done that. I believe in thinking up my own ideas. I really have enough. I really think if I have two or three ideas ahead I'm in totally great shape.

I paraphrased this for my patron, which he seemed to readily accept (and that was surprising) and hung up. Later in the day I did check The Celebrity Black Book, and it does include Stephen King's agent. I briefly weighed the idea of providing this to my patron the next time I saw him, because that's what librarians do, right? Birddog the information through whatever resources possible until we can provide the patron with an answer.

In the end though, I decided against giving the patron the agent's contact info - although the patron asked contact information, the actual answer to his question is that Stephen King does not accept story ideas. Getting in touch with the agent wouldn't have done any good, and so I would have essentially been providing the wrong answer, or misinformation, to the patron. This is kind of an oddly fine line, but it gave me something to think about this week.

This particular patron has written a few stories of his own in the past, so I encouraged him to do it again. And if he does, I'll help him post it to the message board.

But the fact that Stephen King doesn't accept story ideas got me thinking. I remember from high school that Weird Al Yankovic also does not accept song ideas, with the reason given being "legal reasons" (which I've always thought meant he didn't want to get into a royalties fight with someone who thought Al was making a lot of money off an idea a they submitted). But it makes sense that prolifically-creative people have no shortage of their own ideas, and prefer to grow them into a work following their own process. I've never looked into this, but it got me wondering if any famous creator does openly accept fan submissions, and then grow them into a finished work. Has anyone heard of this happening?

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13 Responses to “Reference Question of the Week – 6/2/13”

  1. Tori Says:

    There are a number of “expanded worlds” that accept submissions from fanfiction authors. They are usually science fiction series like Star Trek, Star Wars, Doctor Who.

    There have also been a few authors like Marion Zimmer Bradley who have been accused of appropriating fan stories without permission


  2. A Says:

    While I have heard of authors reading fan fiction but wanting to stay away from such things for legal reasons, I do know that fan writings are often welcomed in the music world. Collaborations are widely accepted and passed on to vocal artists all of the time. There are legalities to sort out, of course, but it happens so often that labels are usually prepared for that sort of thing.

  3. Marty McGovern Says:

    Again in the music world they seem a bit more open to this kind of idea. Radiohead encouraged fans to submit their own mixes of the Nude song from the recent Rainbows album.

    And Beck released his latest album as sheet music and asked anyone to interpret his music and lyrics as they liked.
    I think he plans to produce his own version in time.

  4. Mica Meerbach Says:

    Piers Anthony openly accepted and incorporated fan suggestions into his Xanth novels.

  5. Ben Says:

    I can’t find a good summary post about the process, but Max Barry wrote Machine Man one page a day and e-mailed it out to his blog subscribers, and they edited the hell out of it as it was ongoing. He didn’t necessarily take all the edits — who would? — but it was fan-influenced as it was written, as it emerged.

  6. Chris Says:

    Ha, I have some nice mid-80’s era correspondence from Weird Al saying that he wouldn’t ever read my letter as I had included some suggestions for parodies. I remember being very bummed as a kid. Then again, my suggestions were probably really bad anyways.

  7. Jackie Says:

    Not true that King doesn’t take submissions of ideas. Of course, this idea came from John Mellencamp through his friend — who happens to be King’s agent. As with much in life, it’s not what you know but who you know. 🙂 http://www.npr.org/2013/06/08/189849577/a-rock-star-a-novelist-and-a-super-producer-write-a-musical

  8. Vicky Says:

    Mostly, I’d only heard of authors keeping away from fan input because of potential lawsuits, but this year I watched Neil Gaiman incorporate fan ideas into “A Calendar of Tales” which you can read about here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/blackberry-keep-moving/interactive/how-neil-gaiman-created-a-calendar-of-tales

  9. Rebecca Says:

    Neil Gaiman’s has done fan collaborative projects before (via Twitter.) For “the Calendar of Tales” he wrote stories for each month of the year, based on tweets.

  10. Liam Says:

    Reminds me of the story behind “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel.” Virginia Lee Burton got the idea to turn Mary Ann into a furnace from the then 12-year-old Dick Berkenbush and gave him credit in the book (perhaps the only footnote I’ve ever seen in a children’s picture book).


  11. The Librarian With No Name Says:

    Eric Flint has always been very open about his reliance on fan input for his Ring of Fire alternate history series. He’s got a very active message board of bright people who help him hammer out the details of transposing modern technology to the early 1600s.

    Less directly, Larry Niven has stated that he probably would not have written a sequel to “Ringworld” if a bunch of physics-savvy fans had not proved that the Ringworld as described in the first book was an inherently unstable system.

  12. Katy D Says:

    I second the Neil Gaiman mention. He started a new story yesterday – just the first few sentences, and is asking for contributions from the public. Don’t know where that will lead, but I love the community-created concept. Story at the Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jun/14/neil-gaiman-write-a-story

  13. Amelia Says:

    Stephen King does accept story ideas…when they come from John Mellencamp. It’s a great story you have to watch their interview on David Letterman.